Crown prince launches Saudi sports clubs’ investment, privatization project

Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal at the press conference. supplied
Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal at the press conference. supplied
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Updated 06 June 2023

Crown prince launches Saudi sports clubs’ investment, privatization project

Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal at the press conference. supplied
  • Special focus has been placed on football with plans to position the Saudi Pro League among the top 10 in the world

JEDDAH: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday launched a Saudi sports clubs’ investment and privatization project, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Part of Vision 2030, the initiative aims to encourage private investment in the sector toward developing national teams, regional sports clubs, and practitioners at all levels.

The current phase of the project involves granting approvals for schemes and transfers of club ownership, as well as the privatization of several sports clubs.

The program has been designed to create opportunities and the right environment for investment in the sports sector, raise levels of professionalism, and administrative and financial governance in sports clubs, while developing their infrastructure to provide the best services to sports fans and improve audience experience.

The transfer and privatization of clubs, in general, aims to achieve qualitative leaps in various sports in the Kingdom by 2030, building an elite generation of athletes at regional and global levels.

Special focus has been placed on football with plans to position the Saudi Pro League among the top 10 in the world. Other goals include increasing league revenues from SR450 million ($120 million) to more than SR1.8 billion annually and raising its market value from SR3 billion to at least SR8 billion.

During a press conference, Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal announced that four clubs were being converted into companies, having ownership transferred to development agencies.

He said Al-Qadisiyah Club was to be transferred to Saudi Aramco, Diraiyah Club to the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, AlUla Club to the Royal Commission for AlUla, and the Suqoor Club to NEOM.

The prince also revealed that the Saudi Public Investment Fund would be investing in Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad, and Al-Ahli and that the clubs would be converted into companies owned by the fund, and a non-profit institution for each club.

“Accordingly, an investment fund will be established for each of the eight club companies whose ownership has been transferred, and the value of the club will be deposited in the investment fund in exchange for the ownership transfer,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Public Investment Fund said that it will own 75 percent of the four clubs. “We will work on developing the four clubs financially and administratively,” the fund said in a statement carried out by Al-Ekhbariyah TV.

Speaking to Arab News, Al-Faisal said: “Let me start off with sending my greatest gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (for) their continuous support to the sports sector within the Kingdom... under the leadership of the crown prince and the ambitious plan within the Vision 2030 of Saudi Arabia.

“There are a lot of programs and developments for each sector, and the sports sector is one of these sectors of the vision to fulfill these KPIs and these ambitious goals that we wish to achieve by 2030.

“Today, we see a big milestone within the sports sector that the ownership of the clubs has been transferred to a lot of different entities. These entities are some of the biggest entities within Saudi Arabia (not only) from a commercial value, but also these entities have a lot of developmental programs within the sports sector to develop youth and sports within their territory and so on.

He added: “By the end of 2023, we will also offer a number of clubs to be sold to the private sector, and I hope that this will invite more (companies) from the private sector to invest in these clubs and invest in the sports sector within the Kingdom.”

Chinese leader inaugurates Asian Games in presence of Saudi Olympic Committee president

Chinese leader inaugurates Asian Games in presence of Saudi Olympic Committee president
Updated 28 sec ago

Chinese leader inaugurates Asian Games in presence of Saudi Olympic Committee president

Chinese leader inaugurates Asian Games in presence of Saudi Olympic Committee president
  • Athlete Dunia Abu Talib and equestrian Ahmed Al-Sharbatly carry Saudi Arabian flag during opening ceremony
  • Saudi taekwondo competitors Wahid Mughais and Abrar Al-Bukhari will begin their competition in the poomsae category on Sunday

HANGSHOU, China: China’s President Xi Jinping inaugurated the 19th Asian Games in the presence of Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, on Saturday.
Xi launched the opening ceremony of the tournament, which will continue until Oct. 8, in the presence of several world and Asian leaders, in addition to the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, and Acting President of the Asian Olympic Council, Raja Randhir Singh.
Saudi attendees included Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee Vice President Prince Fahd bin Jalawi bin Abdulaziz bin Musaed, and the Director of the Saudi Arabian delegation, Prince Abdullah bin Fahd bin Abdullah.
Athlete Dunia Abu Talib and equestrian competitor Ahmed Al-Sharbatly carried the Saudi Arabian flag as they led the Kingdom’s delegation of athletes, sportsmen and sportswomen during the parade.
Al-Sharbatly and Abu Talib expressed their pride in carrying the flag, saying “it is a dream that any Saudi citizen would wish for” and wishing their teammates success.

Table tennis
In the table tennis competition, Vietnam defeated Saudi Arabia in their second match in the group stage 3-1. In their first match, the Saudis lost 0-3 to China, the top-ranked team in the world.
Players Ali Al-Khudrawi, Azam Alam, Turki Al Mutairi and Khalid Al Sharif represented the Saudi team in the Iron group. Saudi players will still compete in the doubles and singles events.

Taekwondo and rowing
Saudi taekwondo competitors Wahid Mughais and Abrar Al-Bukhari will begin their competition in the poomsae category on Sunday.
Meanwhile, rowers Turki Al-Aaref and Sultan Al-Shali will compete in the men’s double sculls on Sunday evening in group B to determine the rankings from six to 12.
The race will take place in Fuyang Lake Water Sports Center in Hangzhou, with teams from Kazakhstan, Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand taking part.

Saudi esports player Ahmed Mujahid concluded his technical training on Saturday in preparation for the EA Sports FC Online game on Sunday at the esports venue.

Saudi tennis player Ammar Al-Haqbani will face Qatari player Rashid Naif in the 64th round in the men’s singles competition on Sunday. His teammate and sister, Yara Al Haqbani, will meets Mongolian competitor Maraljoo Shumjav in the 64th round of the women’s singles tennis competition on Sunday afternoon.

The Saudi national handball team face Japan in their opening match at the Gongshang University Sports Center on Sunday afternoon as part of group D, which also includes Iran and Mongolia.

The Saudi U-23 football team is looking to secure a spot in the second round of the Asian Games when they face Vietnam in group B’s final match at the Linbing Sports Center in Hangzhou on Sunday.
The Green Falcons’ Saturday training included fitness recovery exercises, practicing crosses and free kicks, and concluded with stretching exercises.
The team had a goalless draw in their first match against Iran and defeated Mongolia 3-0 on Tuesday.

‘Starstruck’ Al-Ghamdi embraces Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq revolution

‘Starstruck’ Al-Ghamdi embraces Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq revolution
Updated 23 September 2023

‘Starstruck’ Al-Ghamdi embraces Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq revolution

‘Starstruck’ Al-Ghamdi embraces Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq revolution
  • The 21-year-old joined the Dammam-based club in 2020 after his return to the Kingdom from Canada

RIYADH: The young Saudi midfielder Ahmed Al-Ghamdi admits to being “starstruck” for the first few days after Steven Gerrard took over as manager of his club, Ettifaq.

Al-Ghamdi, 21, joined the Dammam-based club in 2020 after returning to Saudi Arabia from Canada, where he had lived since the age of one, and has witnessed the transformation at the club first-hand.

While much of the recent investment in Saudi football has focused on the four major clubs from Riyadh and Jeddah, Ettifaq have been making headlines of their own after signing England and Liverpool legend Gerrard as manager, then adding another former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, Scottish international Jack Hendry, Lyon striker Moussa Dembele and, most recently, Dutch midfielder Gini Wijnaldum to their squad.

It has heralded a new era for the club and catapulted the two-time Saudi champions into the global spotlight.

“It was kind of a shock to see someone you’ve been watching on TV, on social media all the time and then finally, he’s here; he’s your coach,” Al-Ghamdi told Arab News.

“So for the first (few) days, I was kind of starstruck. But then, after it sank in, I realized what a great opportunity I have to learn from such a player, such a coaching staff, and all the experience they have.”

Al-Ghamdi’s journey to professional football was somewhat unconventional compared to most of his Saudi counterparts. Though he was born in Jeddah, Al-Ghamdi grew up almost 12,000 km away in Vancouver, Canada, where his parents moved when he was just one in search of greater opportunities for both themselves and their children.

“(Growing up in Canada has) given me a different perspective on life,” Al-Ghamdi said. “There’s more diversity over there, you get introduced to all different cultures from around the world, all different kinds of immigrants, you learn new things, new customs, and you just understand everything through a broader perspective.”

While there were frequent trips back to his homeland, Al-Ghamdi, one of four brothers, grew up in a typically North American environment, and while football was always a passion — passed down from his father — he also had other sporting interests.

“Obviously, when you’re in North America, football isn’t the biggest sport, it’s more ice hockey and basketball,” he said. “At school, they always gave you opportunities to play different sports and, at the time, I was really into basketball. Even now I still love watching the NBA. When I was younger, I used to play on the teams there, and you could say it helped develop my athletic ability as well.”

While sport was a constant throughout his childhood, Al-Ghamdi was no slouch in the classroom either, and, were it not for fate intervening, he could very well be on his way to becoming a doctor. After signing for Vancouver-based Pacific FC in the Canadian Premier League when he was just 17, Al-Ghamdi had earned a place at the prestigious University of British Columbia, which counts Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among its alumni, to study medicine.

With one season of professional football under his belt, he was ready to pursue his academic ambitions, but a trip back to — ironically — Dammam with the Saudi under-19 national team changed everything.

“I signed a one-year contract with Pacific in the first season of the CPL,” he explained. “I really didn’t have a plan for after that, I was just thankful that I was doing what I love at 17. I saw (it) as a massive opportunity, because it’s very difficult to play professionally out of Vancouver because there’s not that many pathways

“After my contract finished, I thought I was going to leave football. My parents are really big on education, so the plan was to find some sort of agreement (to see if) I could stay (at Pacific) and go to UBC. If I couldn’t reach an agreement with Pacific, I would just go to UBC and focus on my degree,” he continued. “But, at the same time, I was introduced to football in Saudi through the youth national team. I went with them for the U19 Asian Cup qualifiers in Dammam. After the qualifiers finished, I heard that there were clubs in Saudi interested in me, so I decided to take the semester off and see where it took me.”

Now playing under Gerrard, and alongside so many international stars, it’s safe to say that Al-Ghamdi is happy with his decision.

Having made his senior international debut earlier this year at the Gulf Cup — a moment he described as “unbelievable” — Al-Ghamdi is part of a generation of talent hoping to force their way into Roberto Mancini’s reckoning over the next three years ahead of the next FIFA World Cup.

He played a leading role in helping Saudi Arabia win last year’s AFC U23 Asian Cup, scoring the opening goal in the final as the Green Falcons prevailed 2-0 over host nation Uzbekistan, and impressed again at the Gulf Cup earlier this year, making two appearances off the bench.

With the next World Cup due to take place in the USA, Mexico and Canada, the prospect of ‘completing the circle’ and playing for Saudi Arabia in a World Cup match in Canada — possibly even in Vancouver — is one that understandably excites the 21-year-old.

“That would be amazing. It would be a full-circle moment for me to play for Saudi, in Canada, at the 2026 World Cup,” he said. “That would be a really amazing moment for me and my family.”

Five share individual lead, Stinger tops team standings at LIV Golf Chicago

Five share individual lead, Stinger tops team standings at LIV Golf Chicago
Updated 23 September 2023

Five share individual lead, Stinger tops team standings at LIV Golf Chicago

Five share individual lead, Stinger tops team standings at LIV Golf Chicago
  • Jediah Morgan of Ripper GC opened with a 5-under 66 during the first round as he looks to retain spot for next season
  • Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Anirban Lahiri and Sebastian Munoz also head a packed leaderboard

SUGAR GROVE: Ripper GC’s Jediah Morgan, fighting to retain his spot in the LIV Golf League for next season, opened with a 5-under 66 to share the first-round lead on Friday at LIV Golf Chicago.

Morgan is tied with Fireballs GC Captain Sergio Garcia, Stinger GC Captain Louis Oosthuizen, Crusher GC’s Anirban Lahiri and Torque GC’s Sebastian Munoz on a packed leaderboard in which 19 other players ­are within two shots of the lead.

Among those pursuers are team captains Brooks Koepka (Smash GC), Dustin Johnson (4Aces GC) and Bryson DeChambeau (Crushers), who each shot 68, and Joaquin Niemann (Torque), who shot 67.

While the four other co-leaders are assured of returning in 2024, the 23-year-old Morgan is one of four players currently in the drop zone who face relegation at the end of the season. He ranks 46th with just three points but a big result this week at Rich Harvest Farms could move him above the drop zone.

Non-captains ranked 45th or worse will be relegated but have a chance to play their way back in later this year at the promotion tournament.

“I know where I am and everyone keeps reminding me where I am, so it’s pretty hard to get away from it,” said Morgan, who posted the low round in the field on Sunday at the previous LIV Golf event in Bedminster last month. “So, there’s no point in me trying to act like it’s not there in my head. It’s obviously there.

“But I know if I play well enough, put myself in the position I think to make putts for birdie, then that’s really all you can do.”

The South African Stinger team, which has finished third in each of the past three tournaments, top the team leaderboard at 13 under, with Charl Schwartzel and Dean Burmester contributing 67s to support Oosthuizen’s score. A strong finish this week could wrap up one of the top four seeds that will receive a bye at the team championship in Miami.

“We’re playing well,” Oosthuizen said. “… We help each other out to try and get into form, and especially now with Miami around the corner, we really want to give a good push to the end.”

The Crushers and Fireballs are one stroke back at 12 under, with the Rippers at 11 under. The top two teams in the season-long standings, No. 1 4Aces and No. 2 Torque, share fifth place at 10 under.

The five-way individual tie is among the most after any LIV Golf first round. Soft conditions provided opportunities for low scores, a big difference from last year’s firm test won by Ripper GC Captain Cameron Smith, who shot 69 on Friday.

“With the conditions, the course is quite gettable,” Garcia said. “I’m actually surprised there wasn’t a couple lower scores today. I could have shot one of those, obviously.

“It still is the kind of course that you still have to hit the ball well to score. It’s a good mix, but if you strike the ball nicely, it feels like you can make a lot of birdies.”

Morgan made seven birdies on Friday, tied for the most in the field. Similar success this weekend could lead to a significant moment in his young career.

“Playing good is motivating me more than getting out of that position,” Morgan said. “Winning the tournament is more motivating than getting out of the bottom four. That’s what I want to do.”

Smith, his captain, said: “I’m very proud of him; he’s a great player. This is what he should be doing every day.”

Here are the standings and counting scores for Friday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Chicago. The three best scores from each team count in every round for their total team score. The team with the lowest cumulative score after three rounds wins the team title.

1. STINGER GC (-13): Louis Oosthuizen 66, Charl Schwartzel 67, Dean Burmester 67

T2. FIREBALLS GC (-12): Sergio Garcia 66, Carlos Ortiz 67, Eugenio Chacarra 68

T2. CRUSHERS GC (-12): Anirban Lahiri 66, Charles Howell III 67, Bryson DeChambeau 68

4. RIPPER GC (-11): Jediah Morgan 66, Marc Leishman 67, Cameron Smith 69

T5. 4ACES GC (-10): Patrick Reed 67, Peter Uihlein 68, Dustin Johnson 68

T5. TORQUE GC (-10): Sebastián Muñoz 66, Joaquin Niemann 67, David Puig 70

T5. SMASH GC (-10): Jason Kokrak 67, Brooks Koepka 68, Matthew Wolff 68

8. RANGEGOATS GC (-9): Thomas Pieters 67, Talor Gooch 68, Bubba Watson 69

9. MAJESTICKS GC (-6): Sam Horsfield 69, Ian Poulter 69, Lee Westwood 69

10. IRON HEADS GC (-3): Scott Vincent 67, Kevin Na 70, Danny Lee 73

11. HYFLYERS GC (-2): Cameron Tringale 68, Brendan Steele 69, James Piot 74

12. CLEEKS GC (-1): Graeme McDowell 70, Richard Bland 71, Bernd Wiesberger 71

India dethrone Pakistan to become top-ranked ODI side ahead of World Cup

India dethrone Pakistan to become top-ranked ODI side ahead of World Cup
Updated 23 September 2023

India dethrone Pakistan to become top-ranked ODI side ahead of World Cup

India dethrone Pakistan to become top-ranked ODI side ahead of World Cup
  • India become top-ranked side in all three formats of cricket after beating Australia by 5 wickets
  • Pakistan slump to number 2 rankings after losing to Sri Lanka, India in Asia Cup’s Super Four clashes

ISLAMABAD: India brushed aside Pakistan to claim the top spot in the One Day International rankings this week, the International Cricket Council (ICC) said on Saturday, with the development taking place less than two weeks before the World Cup kicks off.
India scripted history on Friday after beating Australia in the first of the three-match ODI series between the two sides. After beating Australia by five wickets in what was a one-sided match, India became only the second team in history to top all cricket formats. South Africa were the only side to have achieved the feat in 2012.
Rohit Sharma’s side were already the top-ranked team in Test and T20 formats of cricket before climbing to the top in the ODI format. Pakistan had regained the top ranking in ODIs after losing to India and Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup after India lost to Bangladesh in the Super Four stage of the tournament.
“India have become the No.1 ranked team across all formats in the
@mrfworldwide ICC Men’s Team Rankings,” the International Cricket Council (ICC) said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

India’s win over Australia in Mohali took them to 116 rating points, one ahead of Pakistan, who have now slumped to number 2 in the ranking.
Sharma’s side, however, could slump down the table if Australia— on 111 points— win the remaining two matches in the series against India.
If India win the series, they will head into the showpiece tournament as the world’s top-ranked ODI team.
Pakistan, meanwhile, head into the World Cup at the back of a disappointing performance in the Asia Cup tournament and injury woes.
Chief Selector Inzamam-ul-Haq on Friday announced the 15-man World Cup squad for the Babar Azam-led side, which included pacer Hassan Ali instead of ace bowler Naseem Shah.
Shah has been ruled out of the upcoming tournament due to a shoulder injury he suffered during the Asia Cup. Pacer Haris Rauf also sat out part of Pakistan’s match against India after he suffered discomfort in his right flank.
Pakistan open their World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on October 6.

League of Legends, other esports join Asian Games in competition for the first time

League of Legends, other esports join Asian Games in competition for the first time
Updated 23 September 2023

League of Legends, other esports join Asian Games in competition for the first time

League of Legends, other esports join Asian Games in competition for the first time
  • The Asian Games has long featured other so-called “mind games” like bridge and chess
  • The competition features five PC games and two mobile games

HANGZHOU, China: The world of online gaming takes its place this year at the Asian Games as an official event for the first time, with gold medals in play across seven top titles.

The Asian Games has long featured other so-called “mind games,” like bridge and chess, so it’s not surprising that extremely popular — and lucrative — esports are being added to the lineup.

Teams from more than 30 countries are taking part, with South Korea and host China expected to dominate what is anticipated to be one of the most watched events of the two-week Asian Games.

The competition features five PC games and two mobile games, covering both multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, and single-player genres.

The lineup consists of: League of Legends, Arena of Valor Asian Games Version (also known as Honor of Kings); Peace Elite Asian Games Version (also known as PUBG Mobile); Dota 2; Dream Three Kingdoms 2; Street Fighter V: Champion Edition; and EA Sports FC (also known as FIFA Online 4).

Competition forms vary with the genre but gold medals will be awarded for each game.

There’s even more at stake for the South Korean players, like Lee “Faker” Sanghyeok, known by many as the League of Legends G.O.A.T. — Greatest Of All Time — where winning a gold medal at the Asian Games also wins one an exemption from otherwise compulsory military service for men.

Esports was first featured at the last Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, as a demonstration sport and proved incredibly popular.

Newzoo, a research company that specializes in tracking the global games market, projected in its annual analysis released last month that the number of players worldwide will reach 3.38 billion in 2023, up 6.3 percent year-on-year, with mobile gaming contributing to most of the growth. It expects 3.79 billion players by the end of 2026.

Annual revenues are expected to grow 2.6 percent to $187.7 billion, with 46 percent from the Asia-Pacific region, followed by 27 percent from North America and 18 percent from Europe. The strongest growth, however, was seen in the Middle East and Africa.

There’s more to gaming crossover than esports showing up in the Asian Games competition. Newzoo notes the success of movies and shows derived from video games, like the Super Mario Bros. Movie and HBO’s The Last of Us series.

“Gaming is now fully embedded in the mainstream,” the company said in its report.

“With each younger generation, gaming engagement increases; as current players age and new players enter the fold, player numbers will continue to rise.”

Despite being a competition event at the Asian Games now, however, the possibility of esports making it to the Olympics is still an open question.

The International Olympic Committee has looked longingly at the potential of video gaming and virtual sports to help attract and stay relevant with young audiences. That goal saw skateboarding and surfing debut at the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021 and breakdancing joins them at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

However, some long-established aspects of video gaming culture are not welcome in the Olympic family.

“We have to draw a very clear red line in this respect,” IOC president Thomas Bach has said, “and that red line would be e-games which are killer games or where you have promotion of violence or any kind of discrimination as a content.”

The IOC created a formal esports commission this month and its focus is on virtual sports, such as cycling on a stationary bike that replicates the demands, for example, of riding a mountain stage at the Tour de France.