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.”


Celebrations in Greece as Olympiakos beat Fiorentina 1-0 for first European title

Celebrations in Greece as Olympiakos beat Fiorentina 1-0 for first European title
Updated 30 May 2024
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Celebrations in Greece as Olympiakos beat Fiorentina 1-0 for first European title

Celebrations in Greece as Olympiakos beat Fiorentina 1-0 for first European title
  • Olympiakos coach Jose Luis Mendilibar secured a second straight European title after winning the Europa League with Sevilla last season
  • Tens of thousands of Olympiakos fans joined wild celebrations across the Greek capital after attending outdoor viewing parties

ATHENS: Olympiakos won Greece’s first European club title by beating Fiorentina 1-0 with a last-gasp goal in extra time in the Europa Conference League final on Wednesday.

Ayoub El Kaabi provided the dramatic ending, diving to nudge in a last-gasp goal in the second period of extra time, with fans erupting in celebration after a lengthy wait for a VAR check for offside.

The Moroccan striker — who finished as the competition’s top scorer — struck in the 116th minute of the match, dropping to his knees as he waited the goal review. El Kaabi met a cross from Santiago Hezze to decide a game that had looked destined for a penalty shootout following an energetic but largely risk-free encounter at AEK Arena.

The late goal condemned Fiorentina and ttheir coach Vincenzo Italiano to a second straight defeat in the final of the Europa Conference League, after losing last year to West Ham.

Olympiakos coach Jose Luis Mendilibar secured a second straight European title after winning the Europa League with Sevilla last season.

Tens of thousands of Olympiakos fans joined wild celebrations across the Greek capital after attending outdoor viewing parties. Youths held up lit flares in the port city of Piraeus, near Athens, where the team is based.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described Olympiakos as “a true legend,” adding in an online post: “Olympiakos has won the Europa Conference League and made history! A sensational night for the club itself, but also for Greek football as a whole.”

The third-tier European club competition took place amid a massive security operation, with some 5,000 police officers forming concentric cordons around a northern area of the capital.

The final was briefly marred by scuffles between Fiorentina fans inside the stadium and riot police next to them.

Although the visitors dominated the early stages of the final, Fiorentina goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano kept his team in the game with two impressive fingertip saves to block on-target shots from Daniel Podence in the fourth minute and Stevan Jovetic in the sixth minute of extra time.

El Kaabi, who scored a total of 11 goals in the competition, had been largely sidelined in the match by Fiorentina’s unyielding four-man defense.


Nelly Korda faces her toughest test at US Women’s Open

Nelly Korda faces her toughest test at US Women’s Open
Updated 30 May 2024
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Nelly Korda faces her toughest test at US Women’s Open

Nelly Korda faces her toughest test at US Women’s Open
  • The 79th edition of the Women’s Open gets started on Thursday, and Korda is as big an attraction as the course itself
  • Among those who could challenge is Rose Zhang, the decorated amateur at Stanford who won in her LPGA debut as a professional last year

LANCASTER, Pennsylvania: No matter how easy Nelly Korda has made golf look over the last two months, not even the best player in her sport can expect an easy time at the US Women’s Open.

The biggest and richest event in women’s golf prides itself on being the toughest test, and Lancaster Country Club has all the trappings with its hilly, tree-lined terrain, partially blind shots into some of the greens and a routing in which holes constantly change direction.

“A beast,” Korda called it.

Whether the toughest test identifies the best player is up for debate.

Since the women’s world ranking began in 2006, only two players at No. 1 captured the US Women’s Open — Annika Sorenstam in 2006 at Newport (an 18-hole playoff win over Pat Hurst) and Inbee Park in 2013 at Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island, the year Park won three straight majors.

Now it’s Korda’s turn, and she arrived at Lancaster on a stretch of winning not seen since Lorena Ochoa in 2008, the last person to have six victories before the calendar turned to June.

“It just tests every aspect of your game,” Korda said. “It’s tight off the tee. Visually it looks so much shorter than it is. There’s bunkers that visually you see that you think you’re going to carry that you end up maybe 10 yards short.

“If you’re in the rough and you miss fairways, the greens are very small and very slopy, and the rough is thick around the greens, too.”

The 79th edition of the Women’s Open gets started on Thursday, and Korda is as big an attraction as the course itself, which previously hosted the Open in 2015.

Korda tied an LPGA record by winning five straight tournaments, a streak capped off at the Chevron Championship in the first major of the season. She is coming off a win in her most recent tournament — that makes six wins in seven starts — at the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National in New Jersey.

“Right now I think Nelly is just in a league of her own,” said Allizen Corpuz, the defending champion who picked up her first major — and first LPGA title — last year at Pebble Beach.

There has been plenty of buzz around Lancaster beyond Korda. The purse is $12 million, and the USGA decided to follow the model of the PGA Tour’s elevated events by paying 20 percent of the purse to the winner — $2.4 million.

This also figures to be the last US Women’s Open for Lexi Thompson, who is playing it for the 18th time and she still is only 29. Thompson said she is retiring from a full schedule after this year. Barring a high finish, she won’t be eligible next year and is unlikely to get a special exemption because she has never won.

Among those who could challenge is Rose Zhang, the decorated amateur at Stanford who won in her LPGA debut as a professional last year, and then ended Korda’s winning streak with a victory at the Cognizant Founders Cup.

Zhang just turned 21 and has not even spent a full year as a pro. She still can appreciate what Korda is doing, and how tough the 25-year-old American will be to beat.

“I’m witnessing some crazy history, and it’s really, really inspiring to see her,” Zhang said. “She’s almost looking unfazed. ... Even though she’s not acting like a human being right now — or playing like it — I think she has a lot of pressure on her. And that’s why I’m saying she’s so incredible, because she’s able to handle all that pressure.”

Korda has two majors among her 14 titles on the LPGA, the other coming in 2021 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship that first elevated her to No. 1 in the world.

In the two years that followed, there was a revolving door at No. 1 among five players. Korda had a health scare with blood clot in 2022. She now is back to full strength and dominating.

“Nelly is almost what we are trying to aim for, because if you beat her you’re probably going to have the trophy in your hands,” said Hannah Green, the only other multiple winner on the LPGA Tour this year.

But the Women’s Open can have a mind of its own, and there have been plenty of surprises over the years, from Corpuz at Pebble Beach last year to A-lim Kim at Champions in Houston during the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2020, even back to Hilary Lunke in 2003.

Korda has only two top 10s in the Women’s Open — a tie for 10th at Shoal Creek in 2018 and a tie for eighth at Pine Needles in 2022. Both times, she finished 11 shots out of the lead.

The US Women’s Open doesn’t discriminate. It’s tough for everyone.

“It’s important not to get ahead of yourself and just think, ‘Oh, I have to beat Nelly.’ You’ve got a lot more people out here who are really just as driven,” Zhang said. “Because to get to the US Open, it doesn’t just take a lucky chance. It requires a lot of years of playing and being able to practice for this moment. I mean, Lancaster is a difficult place.”


The Roshn Saudi League 2023/24: A ‘game-changing season’

The Roshn Saudi League 2023/24: A ‘game-changing season’
Updated 29 May 2024
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The Roshn Saudi League 2023/24: A ‘game-changing season’

The Roshn Saudi League 2023/24: A ‘game-changing season’
  • ‘Some of the best players in the world chose RSL to showcase their incredible talents alongside the next generation of young Saudi talent,’ says league CEO Omar Mugharbel
  • 5-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo set a league record by scoring 35 goals during the season, one more than Abderrazak Hamdallah managed in 2018/19

RIYADH: During the 2023/24 season of the Roshn Saudi League, which concluded on Monday, 909 goals were scored in 306 matches, a 40 percent increase compared with the previous season.
Al-Nassr’s Portuguese superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, contributed 35 of those goals, in 31 games, setting a league record for the number of goals in a season.
As he looked back on Wednesday at some of the highlights of an eventful season, the league’s CEO, Omar Mugharbel, predicted that it will be remembered as a milestone in the growth of elite football in the Kingdom.
“Some of the best players in the world chose RSL to showcase their incredible talents alongside the next generation of young Saudi talent,” he said.
“Their arrival amplified even further the huge interest in the league from fans, broadcasters and sponsors. It is impossible to overstate how much of a game-changing season 2023/24 has been.”
The season began with major signings of several international stars, including Karim Benzema, Neymar, Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mane, N’Golo Kante, Georgino Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ruben Neves.
Champions Al-Hilal grabbed headlines around the globe when they set a world record for successive top-flight victories, winning 34 games in a row across all competitions during an unbeaten campaign.
On an individual level, five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo achieved further success in the calendar year 2023 when he netted the most club goals in the world, with 54 in 59 appearances in all competitions.
And during the 2023/24 season, the Portuguese star set a record by scoring 35 goals in the league, one more than previous record holder Abderrazak Hamdallah managed in 2018/19.
An increased focus on the development of young Saudi talent, to help them excel on the world stage, meant that age of eligibility to play in the league was reduced from 18 to 16 years old. The average age of players dropped to 27.5 years old.
Mugharbel said he has no doubt the league will continue to go from strength to strength, with preparations already underway for next season.
“What is crucial now is enhancing the offering for all stakeholders across the Roshn Saudi League to ensure that we deliver a product, on and off the field, that is truly and consistently world class across all metrics,” he said.
“These are hugely exciting times for football in Saudi Arabia and we look forward immensely to the Roshn Saudi League season 2024/25.”
Off the pitch, the transformation of the league attracted global attention. This was reflected in major milestones that were achieved across metrics such as broadcast deals, sponsorship agreements, and social media reach.
Games were broadcast in more than 160 countries on 38 global platforms as the league reached more fans than ever. Meanwhile, its social media channels attracted 6.72 million new followers during the season, representing a 141 percent increase from the start of the campaign.
The Manager of the Season award went to Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus, who was also named Manager of the Month five times along the way.
As noted, Ronaldo was Top Goalscorer, while Al-Hilal’s Yassine Bounou, who kept 15 clean sheets and conceded the fewest goals, was named Goalkeeper of the Season.


Usyk-Fury sequel set for Dec. 21 as part of Riyadh Season

Usyk-Fury sequel set for Dec. 21 as part of Riyadh Season
Updated 29 May 2024
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Usyk-Fury sequel set for Dec. 21 as part of Riyadh Season

Usyk-Fury sequel set for Dec. 21 as part of Riyadh Season
  • The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury in the Saudi capital on May 19 in the first unification fight of the four-belt era

RIYADH: Tyson Fury will seek revenge against Oleksandr Usyk on Dec. 21 in Riyadh for the heavyweight boxing title.
Usyk defeated the British boxer on May 19 on points, becoming the first undisputed heavyweight champion of the 21st century.
The chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority Turki Alalshikh said: “The quality of the first fight has left fans globally wanting more so we are delighted to already be able to confirm the rematch as part of Riyadh Season 2024.”
“It is a chance for both fighters to write another chapter in boxing history and deliver what everyone around the world wants to see.”
Fury, who was confident and playful in the ring, landed some big shots against Usyk, including punishing body blows, that allowed the Brit to control the middle part of the fight.
But it was the Ukrainian’s consistancy of effort and barrage of accurate strikes in the ninth that nearly tanked the burly Mancunian.
In the end the judges scored the fight 115-113 and 114-113 for Usyk and 114-113 for Fury in a split decision which the Gypsy King said was biased.


Fury said immediately after the match that he would exercise an automatic rematch clause in his contract.
The Kingdom has engineered a revival of boxing in the past few years as the country seeks to attract global sports fans to Saudi Arabia.
On Saturday, a unique boxing event will be held in Riyadh that will see five boxers from Matchroom take on five from Queensberry in a team format dubbed 5vs5.
Queensberry’s Frank Warren told Arab News Sport even though the fighters were closely matched, his team will be victorious against Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom fighters.
Hearn praised the support for boxing in the Kingdom and said grassroots growth of the sport locally has been “incredible”.

 


Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open

Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open
Updated 29 May 2024
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Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open

Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open
  • Surging down the stretch as Osaka faded, Swiatek saved a match point and grabbed the last five games to sneak her way to a 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5 victory
  • “For sure, this match was really intense,” Swiatek said

PARIS: Iga Swiatek played like the current No. 1 and the two-time defending champion at the French Open. No surprise there. That Naomi Osaka looked like the former No. 1 that she is — and on clay, no less — amounted to an announcement that she is still quite capable of elite tennis.
Surging down the stretch as Osaka faded, Swiatek saved a match point and grabbed the last five games to sneak her way to a 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5 victory in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday night in a thrill-a-minute contest befitting two women who both own four Grand Slam titles.
“For sure, this match was really intense. Much more intense for the second round than I ever expected. For sure, I’ll be more ready next time,” Swiatek said. “Naomi played amazing tennis. … I’m happy that she’s back and she’s playing well.”
For Swiatek, this extended her Roland Garros winning streak to 16 matches as she pursues a third consecutive trophy at the clay-court major. For Osaka, who cried when she left the court after letting a 5-2 lead in the concluding set slip away, this amounted to a return to her big-hitting best.
They went back-and-forth for nearly three hours as rain loudly pelted the outside of the closed roof at Court Philippe Chatrier — showers forced the postponements of 23 singles matches until Thursday — and a riveted, if hardly full, crowd alternated their support between the two players. Sometimes, spectators called out before a point was done, prompting admonishment from chair umpire Aurélie Tourte during the match. And from Swiatek afterward.
“Sometimes, under a lot of pressure, when you scream something during the rally or right before the return, it’s really, really hard to be focused,” Swiatek said. “The stakes are big and there is a lot of money here to win. So losing a few points may change a lot. So please, guys, if you can support us between the rallies but not during, that would be really, really amazing.”
Osaka served for the victory at 5-3 in the final set, and was a point away from winning, but she put a backhand into the net. Soon, when Osaka missed another backhand, this one long, Swiatek finally converted a break point on her 10th chance of that set, and they played on.
Maybe the lack of high-level matches caught up to Osaka, because her mistakes continued to mount, including a double-fault that put Swiatek in control 6-5. Swiatek, who has led the WTA rankings for nearly every week since April 2022, then held serve one last time.
“I don’t necessarily feel like I regret anything,” Osaka said.
Still, this was, without a doubt, Osaka’s top performance since she returned to the tour in January after 15 months away while becoming a mother. (Her daughter, who is 10 months old now, accompanied Osaka to Paris and recently started walking.)
“I was watching Iga win this tournament last year, and I was pregnant. It was just my dream to be able to play her,” Osaka said. “When I kind of think of it like that, I think I’m doing pretty well. And I’m also just trying not to be too hard on myself. I feel like I played her on her better surface. I’m a hard-court kid, so I would love to play her on my surface and see what happens.”
Because of the weather, only nine matches were completed Wednesday, and winners included Coco Gauff, Ons Jabeur, Sofia Kenin, Carlos Alcaraz, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev.
It’s been a few years since Osaka played this capably and confidently, hammering big serves at up to 122 mph (197 kph) and imposing groundstrokes. Her quick-strike capabilities were on full display: Osaka won 82 of the 139 points (59 percent) that lasted four strokes or fewer, and she finished with a 54-37 advantage in total winners.
All of those familiar mannerisms were back, too. She turned her back to Swiatek to reset between points, hopped in place, tugged at her pink visor’s brim and slapped her palm on her thigh. Osaka celebrated points by shaking a clenched fist and shouting “Come on!”
She grabbed nine of 10 games to dominate the second set and lead 3-0 in the third. Then 4-1. Then 5-2.
As one ball or another would fly past Swiatek, zipped near a corner or right at a line, she turned toward her guest box and shot a look of confusion or concern in the direction of her coach and her sports psychologist.
“I felt for most of the match that I wasn’t really (in the) here and now,” Swiatek said. “My mind was, like, playing around sometimes.”
She’s not used to this sort of one-way traffic coming head-on in her direction. Normally, it’s Swiatek who is delivering lopsided sets at a foe’s expense, especially on clay. She now has won her last 14 matches this month, with titles on the surface at Madrid and Rome — a clay double no woman had done since Serena Williams in 2013.
But this marked a sudden return to the Osaka everyone came to expect, match in and match out, back when she was at the height of her powers, climbing atop the rankings and gathering two trophies apiece at the US Open and Australian Open from late 2018 to early 2021.
It was in May 2021 that Osaka withdrew from the French Open before her second-round match, explaining that she experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media and revealing she had dealt with depression. She took time away from the tour for a mental health break, then opted for another hiatus after her title defense at the US Open a few months later ended with a third-round loss.
She helped usher in a change in the way athletes, sports fans and society at large understood the importance of mental health — and prompted those in charge of various sports, including tennis, to take the issue seriously and try to accommodate and protect them better.
Osaka entered with an 0-4 record on the red stuff against opponents ranked in the top 10 and never has been past the third round at Roland Garros. This also would have been her first win anywhere against a top-10 opponent since January 2020.
Instead, though, it is Swiatek who moves on and continues her bid to become the first woman with three championships in a row in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007-09.