Abu Dhabi and Dubai franchises will take us to ‘another level’ says Baseball United CEO Shaikh

Special Abu Dhabi and Dubai franchises will take us to ‘another level’ says Baseball United CEO Shaikh
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Chairman and CEO of Dubai-based Baseball United Kash Shaikh. (Baseball United)
Special Abu Dhabi and Dubai franchises will take us to ‘another level’ says Baseball United CEO Shaikh
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Chairman and CEO of Dubai-based Baseball United Kash Shaikh. (Baseball United)
Special Abu Dhabi and Dubai franchises will take us to ‘another level’ says Baseball United CEO Shaikh
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Founder and CEO of Dubai-based Baseball United Kash Shaikh. (Baseball United)
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Updated 27 June 2023
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Abu Dhabi and Dubai franchises will take us to ‘another level’ says Baseball United CEO Shaikh

Abu Dhabi and Dubai franchises will take us to ‘another level’ says Baseball United CEO Shaikh
  • Mumbai and Karachi franchises have already been announced ahead of Dubai showcase in November
  • Shaikh recently met with high-ranking sporting officials in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and last week signed a historic partnership with the ECB

For Kash Shaikh, November cannot come quickly enough.

The Chairman and CEO of Baseball United, the first professional league dedicated to baseball in the Middle East and Asia, last week signed partnership with the Emirates Cricket Board ahead of the organization’s competitive launch in five months’ time.

Things are steadily falling into place for the Dubai-based league.

Baseball United’s first showcase will involve four franchises facing off in four games, before an eight-team league follows a year later.

“It’s exciting for us,” Shaikh told Arab News while in Dubai. “It’s historic for Baseball United, it’s historic for professional baseball. It’s historic for sport within the region, because for the first time ever, we were able to receive sanctions that no other international organization has ever received. In our partnership with Emirates Cricket Board, we received a 15-year term to host, lead and develop baseball at the professional level, all the way down to the youth level in the UAE.

“We’re really excited for Abu Dhabi and Dubai to be the foundation for professional baseball within the Middle East.”

Initially, Baseball United’s team rosters will be packed with established international players, but the agreement opens the door to developing regional talent in the coming years.

“I’m really grateful to the ECB, including the chairman, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, (and) Vice Chairman Khalid Al-Zarooni, for their vision, and their belief and their support. Because a big part of that has been how we can grow with the game at the youth level here in (the) UAE. How we can help young kids get inspired about the game, how we can help young kids get more active by creating and introducing a new sport in the region that’s aspirational to them.”

There are plans to establish development and talent programs in India and Pakistan, as well as across Gulf Cooperation Council nations, where Shaikh has, over recent weeks, been meeting high-ranking sports and government officials in order to get support for Baseball United.

“It’s been amazing the amount of excitement and momentum that we’ve been able to build over the last just few weeks within the GCC,” he said. “Everything really started to accelerate with Baseball United, when we announced our first franchise, the Mumbai Cobras, a little over a month ago. And then we announced the second franchise, the Karachi Monarchs, and with each announcement things got bigger and bigger. After Karachi, we made a strategic decision to really engage the right leadership and the right organizations across the GCC.

“We went to Saudi Arabia and spent four days in Riyadh, where we met with the Saudi Arabia Baseball and Softball Federation. Amazing team, they’re led by Abdulrahman (Alshehri), who’s the CEO. The Saudi federation is the only baseball federation in the region, in (the) GCC. But they’re the youngest in the world, they were formed in 2019. So they have a lot of the foundational elements of strategy, goals focus — where we are going to partner with them and help them is on the technical side, on the training side, and on the growth side, even with everything from marketing to content partnerships.”

In Doha, Shaikh met with the committee that organized the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as well as with the Ministry of Youth and Sport, Bein Sports and the Qatar Little League. Six of the stadiums used at the World Cup could be retro-fitted and used for baseball.

“Obviously we had a lot of traction here in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he added. “We met with investment funds, with brand sponsors, with the right government officials, and had a lot of support from the ECB throughout all that.”

Among Baseball United’s growing list of investors and endorsers are former stars like Felix Hernandez, Adrian Beltre, Mariano Rivera, Barry Larkin and Albert Pujols, as well as Elvis Andrus, an active player with the Chicago White Sox.

The project’s progress continues to generate buzz across the baseball world.

“It’s crazy,” Shaikh said, “and it’s surreal, how many people not only know about what we’re building, but are excited about it. (Last weekend) Major League Baseball was playing international games in London, part of their London series, which they do once a year, and so many players have called me from London — current investors as well as people that want to come in, saying ‘guys, Baseball United is the talk of the town’.”

With that comes immediate responsibility, says Shaikh.

“The expectations are high, the bar is high,” he said. “We have a lot of pressure to deliver. But we welcome that opportunity because the eyes of the baseball world will be on us in November.”

Shaikh is clear that, as a start-up, Baseball United is not looking to compete with Major League Baseball, but will aim to give regional audiences a unique experience, and will look to keep growing in the coming years.

Joining the Mumbai Cobras and Karachi Monarchs in November’s showcase will be two as yet unnamed franchises from the GCC.

“I can tell you that the first two Middle Eastern professional baseball franchises in history are going to come from the UAE,” he said. “I’m excited that Abu Dhabi and Dubai are gonna have that honor, because this country has been such a foundational birthplace for so many sports in the region. The leadership of the UAE has been passionate about growing sports. The visionaries that drive this country have always known that when you have a society that’s vibrant and connected with sports, it helps grow the country.”

The two new teams could be announced as early as July.

“When we launch these two UAE teams, and people see the jerseys and see the hats and it becomes real, and people have teams they can then root for, I’m telling you, it’s going to take things to another level and I can’t wait (for) when that happens.”


‘Truly exceptional’: Jorge Jesus hails Al-Hilal players as champions lift Roshn Saudi League trophy in glitzy ceremony

 ‘Truly exceptional’: Jorge Jesus hails Al-Hilal players as champions lift Roshn Saudi League trophy in glitzy ceremony
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‘Truly exceptional’: Jorge Jesus hails Al-Hilal players as champions lift Roshn Saudi League trophy in glitzy ceremony

 ‘Truly exceptional’: Jorge Jesus hails Al-Hilal players as champions lift Roshn Saudi League trophy in glitzy ceremony
  • Club can secure an invincible league season if they avoid defeat at Al-Wehda on Monday
  • Al-Hilal beat Al-Tai 3-1 on Thursday through Salem Al-Dawsari, Michael and Malcom goals

RIYADH: After newly crowned Roshn Saudi League champions Al-Hilal lifted the league trophy in a stunning ceremony at Kingdom Arena on Friday night, manager Jorge Jesus says the season may be the best ever in the 66-year history of the club.

Unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal — who created world history by winning 34 matches in succession between September and April across all competitions — clinched the title with three games to spare. The champions are 14 points ahead of second-placed Al-Nassr.

An invincible league season will be secured for the Saudi Super Cup winners if they avoid defeat in their final match at Al-Wehda on Monday. The King’s Cup final against Al-Nassr concludes Al-Hilal’s campaign.

Jesus said: “This season has been truly exceptional for the team — arguably our best ever. The credit goes to the immense talent within the squad and the incredible sense of unity that transcends both on and off-field interactions. We’re currently vying for three local trophies this season. We’ve already secured two and are determined to win the last one.”

Al-Hilal’s latest victory saw them beat Al-Tai 3-1 on Thursday thanks to first-half goals from Salem Al-Dawsari and Michael, and a goal on the hour mark from Malcom. Andrei Cordea netted a consolation strike for Al-Tai.


Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wins first home F1 Monaco Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wins first home F1 Monaco Grand Prix
Updated 10 min 51 sec ago
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Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wins first home F1 Monaco Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc wins first home F1 Monaco Grand Prix
  • McLaren’s Oscar Piastri followed the man from Monaco across the line with Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari in third

MONTE CARLO: Charles Leclerc finally broke his Monaco Grand Prix curse on Sunday as Red Bull had an off weekend with Max Verstappen sixth and Sergio Perez crashing out on the first lap.
Leclerc ended years of frustration at his home race by taking the jewel in the Formula One calendar from pole at his third attempt.
A tearful Leclerc said: “No words can explain this. It means a lot, it’s the race that made me dream of becoming a F1 driver.
“Tonight is going to be a big night!“
McLaren’s Oscar Piastri followed the man from Monaco across the line with Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari in third.
Leclerc had started at the front of the grid at the circuit he used to travel along on the bus to school as a kid in 2021 and 2022 only for misfortune to stop him winning on both occasions.
With Ferrari now a much smoother run ship under Fred Vasseur this was a far slicker Ferrari team than then, and Leclerc dictated the pace perfectly from the front, until the end of the first lap.
That was when the red flag had to come out to stop the race after a three car pile-up with Perez’s Red Bull ripped apart.
Perez spun after being hit hard from behind by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.
Nico Hulkenberg in the other Haas was a third innocent casualty.
The race on the narrow streets of the Principality was interrupted for around 30 minutes to allow debris to be cleared off the circuit.
All three crash victims were missing at the restart along with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who joined this unhappy group of onlookers after he was forced to retire following a tangle with his team-mate Pierre Gasly.
Leclerc escaped all the drama and led for the rest of the race to claim a hugely popular success.
With three-time world champion Verstappen only sixth, Leclerc moved to within 31 points of the Dutchman ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.


Countdown to glory: Riyadh Season’s ‘5 vs. 5’ boxing spectacle set to thrill global audiences

Countdown to glory: Riyadh Season’s ‘5 vs. 5’ boxing spectacle set to thrill global audiences
Updated 26 May 2024
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Countdown to glory: Riyadh Season’s ‘5 vs. 5’ boxing spectacle set to thrill global audiences

Countdown to glory: Riyadh Season’s ‘5 vs. 5’ boxing spectacle set to thrill global audiences
  • Russian powerhouse Dmitry Bivol leads the pack as fight world’s biggest names prepare for Kingdom Arena showdown

RIYADH: In a thrilling culmination of Riyadh Season festivities, boxing enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting the “5 vs. 5” global showdown at the Kingdom Arena next Saturday. 

Featuring a stellar lineup of top boxers from around the world, the spectacle promises to deliver unparalleled excitement and fierce competition. 

Leading the pack is Russian powerhouse Dmitry Bivol, a dominant force in the ring and holder of the World Boxing Association super light-heavyweight title since 2017.

Joining him is British fighter Hamzah Sheeraz, the reigning Commonwealth and WBC Silver middleweight champion, alongside American prodigy Austin Williams, the top-ranked amateur boxer on the US team.

The roster boasts an array of international talent, including Libyan champion Malik Zinad, holder of the WBA Mediterranean continental championship, and Chinese fighter Zhilei Zhang, ranked among the world’s top heavyweights. 

Big names such as Deontay Wilder from the US, British pro Daniel Dubois, Filip Hrgovic from Croatia, Willie Hutchinson from Scotland, and British champions Craig Richards and Nick Ball round out the formidable lineup, promising a showcase of skill and athleticism that is sure to captivate audiences worldwide.

The high-profile fight showdown highlights Riyadh Season’s commitment to positioning the Saudi capital as a premier global destination. Drawing spectators from all corners of the globe, it affirms the capital’s growing prominence on the international stage, and reinforces the city’s reputation as a hub for world-class entertainment and sporting excellence.


Nepal hope for Lamichhane US visa as T20 World Cup deadline passes

Nepal hope for Lamichhane US visa as T20 World Cup deadline passes
Updated 26 May 2024
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Nepal hope for Lamichhane US visa as T20 World Cup deadline passes

Nepal hope for Lamichhane US visa as T20 World Cup deadline passes
  • The World Cup begins next Saturday, co-hosted by the US and West Indies, with Nepal’s first game on June 4
  • Nepal are keen to select Lamichhane, who had his eight-year sentence for rape quashed on appeal this month

KATMANDU: Nepal said Sunday they had not given up hope on including controversial star Sandeep Lamichhane in their T20 World Cup squad, despite the spin bowler being denied a US visa and the deadline for final squads expiring.
The T20 World Cup begins next Saturday, co-hosted by the United States and West Indies, with Nepal’s first game on June 4 in Dallas.
“We are lobbying the embassy through the Nepal government,” Chatur Bahadur Chand, president of Cricket Association of Nepal, told AFP on Sunday.
Nepal are keen to select Lamichhane, who had his eight-year sentence for rape quashed on appeal this month.
The International Cricket Council said that all T20 World Cup squads had been named by the May 25 deadline.
Any alteration to Nepal’s squad would now require approval from the ICC’s event technical committee.
Nepal will play their first two group games in the United States followed by two in the West Indies.
Lamichhane, 23, was once the poster boy for cricket in Nepal, but was not included in the original squad because of the conviction for raping a young woman in a Katmandu hotel in 2022.
Former captain Lamichhane said late on Wednesday that the US Embassy in Nepal had “denied my visa for the T20 World Cup,” calling the decision “unfortunate.”
Nepal are making their second appearance in the T20 World Cup and will face the Netherlands in their opening match in Dallas on June 4, followed by group games against South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Before his rape trial, Lamichhane’s success as a leg-spinner had dramatically boosted the sport’s profile in the Himalayan republic.
In 2022, when an arrest warrant was first issued, Lamichhane initially failed to return from Jamaica, where he was playing in the Caribbean Premier League.
He was dismissed as national captain and arrested, but Nepal lifted his playing ban when he was freed on bail.
It allowed him to keep playing, including at last year’s Asia Cup in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, until he was convicted in January.


Al-Ain’s glory: 4 talking points from the 2023-24 AFC Champions League

Al-Ain’s glory: 4 talking points from the 2023-24 AFC Champions League
Updated 26 May 2024
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Al-Ain’s glory: 4 talking points from the 2023-24 AFC Champions League

Al-Ain’s glory: 4 talking points from the 2023-24 AFC Champions League
  • A victorious end to this AFC Champions League-era was earned by the UAE’s Al-Ain after a 5-1 win over Yokohama Marinos at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium

DUBAI: Al-Ain are kings of Asia after a remarkable AFC Champions League campaign culminated in a 5-1 win over Yokohama Marinos in the second leg of the final on Saturday night.

Morocco phenomenon Soufiane Rahimi helped gain a richly deserved second continental crown for Hernan Crespo’s troops, sparking wild celebrations at a jubilant Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in the Garden City.

The Boss’ 6-3 aggregate finals triumph over Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos was enriched by consecutive knockout-stage eliminations of red-hot Saudi Arabian favorites Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr and came with added poignancy as they go down in history as the first and last victors throughout 21 editions of this format ahead of next season’s sweeping changes for AFC Champions League Elite/AFC Champions League Two/AFC Challenge League.

Here, Arab News takes a look at the talking points for the Middle East’s competitors after this unforgettable — and unrepeatable — 2023-24 campaign:

Crespo and Rahimi make difference for unstoppable Al-Ain

Al-Ain’s curious campaign gained a fittingly glorious conclusion.

The Boss looked well off the pace domestically to a rampant Al-Wasl yet were the undisputed class of the continental field. That is, in part, attributable to the searing drive of Rahimi and Crespo’s charisma.

They swept through the group stage under the unpopular Alfred Schreuder, before their celebrated Argentine supremo orchestrated a tight victory versus Uzbekistan’s Nasaf and then two modern classics against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal.

A Marinos similarly prone to drama awaited in the decider. Al-Ain would only trail for 14 regulation minutes across the two legs, with a 2-1 away defeat being followed by a dominant 5-1 home victory.

There would be no repeat of the showpiece suffering caused by Douglas’ missed penalty in 2016 or Al-Ittihad’s inexorable 2005 second-leg display.

Crespo learned from the 2022 semifinal embarrassment inflicted upon him by Al-Hilal when in charge of Qatar’s Al-Duhail. His reintroduction of compatriot Matias Palacios — mystifyingly shunned by Schreuder — was influential.

Other heroes included Yahia Nader, Kaku, the ceaseless Mohammed Abbas and skipper Bandar Al-Ahbabi.

But the final words must go to Rahimi. The top scorer’s 13 goals were five more than anyone else, including three goals in two legs versus Al-Nassr and a first-leg hat-trick against Al-Hilal.

In the final’s second stanza, he leveled the tie on eight minutes, won the penalty for Kaku, which put them back ahead, and a supremely intelligent arching run kept him onside before being felled by goalkeeper William Popp for the red card. There was even time to link back up with gregarious Togo hit man Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba, who raised the roof via a late brace despite being continually ignored by Crespo.

In a sign of what awaits, however, links to a Saudi Arabian summer move will not abate.

Saudi Arabia’s time should come again

Shock and disappointment are the prevailing emotions for Saudi Arabia’s heavyweights as they look back on a 2023-24 campaign derailed by neighbors Al-Ain.

A quarterfinal double-header for the ages witnessed Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr eliminated on penalties, with a Rahimi-inspired Al-Ain then inflicting more pain on Al-Hilal in the subsequent round. Such early exits were far from the commentariat’s minds when Roshn Saudi League’s revolutionary summer 2023 spending spree was conducted.

There are multiple reasonable to believe, however, that a seventh AFC Champions League trophy will be won by a club from the Kingdom in a year’s time.

The AFC’s decision to scrap their own foreign quota from 2024-25 should exponentially benefit Saudi clubs.

This season’s limit to six foreign players — of whom one must be Asian-qualified — was two more than Saudi clubs are permitted domestically, or three if they did not possess an Asian foreigner. Hence Nassr’s panicked January acquisition of little-used Australia left-back Aziz Behich.

In comparison, only five open-age foreigners were allowed in this season’s ADNOC Pro League of the UAE and Qatar’s Expo Stars League.

The rule unduly disrupted the chemistry within Saudi squads, leading to consequential selection calls such as esteemed Senegal center-back Kalidou Koulibaly sitting out Al-Hilal’s last-four decider with Al-Ain.

There is also an undeniable home-soil advantage baked into the 2024-25 and 2025-26 Elite editions with the quarterfinals, semifinals and final being played in one-leg ties within the Kingdom.

Roshn Saudi League clubs can also look forward to another ambitious summer recruitment spree to further bolster already fearsome rosters. Jeddah giants Al-Ahli’s return to Asia’s premier club competition for the first time since 2021 will see the likes of Franck Kessie and Riyad Mahrez compete for glory.

In time, 2023-24 may just be looked upon as an unwelcome blip for Saudi Arabia’s strongest.

More middling Qatar performances

Another AFC Champions League passed by with no telling impact from Qatari clubs, despite an abundance of star quality and the national team’s second successive Asian Cup success this winter.

It is now 13 years and counting since Al-Sadd defeated South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the final. This is also the nation’s last showpiece appearance.

This season, Al-Arabi and Al-Wakrah exited in the play-offs to unfancied Uzbekistani opposition. It got little better in the competition proper, with Al-Sadd and Al-Duhail failing to make the knockouts.

It feels like a window of opportunity in the AFC Champions League has permanently closed for Qatar, without reward.

Focus on COVID-19 and the World Cup 2022 has shifted to Saudi Arabia’s AFC Champions League Elite “Final Stage” hosting rights for 2024-26, plus lengthy run-ups to the 2027 Asian Cup and World Cup 2034.

Shifting balance?

Change to the direction of travel from east to west within Asian football was notable, throughout 2023-24.

The question, now, is whether this is permanent.

Western supremacy seemed pre-determined in 2023/24, from the imposing strength of Saudi Arabia’s clubs to Al-Ain appearing as the only opponent with a realistic retort. It had, resolutely, not been this way for much of the recent past.

Al-Hilal (2019, 2021) and Al-Sadd (2011) were the only western-zone teams to prevail from 2006 to 2022.

With the financial might of the Chinese Super League continuing to emphatically wane and K League 1 and J1 League outfits remaining exporters of outstanding talent rather than importers, AFC Champions League Elite may have a drastically different roll of honor.