Ronaldo says Saudi Pro League now better than MLS, closes door on playing in Europe again

Ronaldo says Saudi Pro League now better than MLS, closes door on playing in Europe again
Nassr's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (R) celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Saudi Pro League football match between Al-Nassr and Al-Raed at the al-Awwal Park Stadium in the Saudi capital Riyadh on April 28, 2023. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 July 2023
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Ronaldo says Saudi Pro League now better than MLS, closes door on playing in Europe again

Ronaldo says Saudi Pro League now better than MLS, closes door on playing in Europe again
  • Portuguese superstar insists that his move to Riyadh has changed dynamic of football transfers for many players
  • The 38-year-old was speaking after Al-Nassr’s pre-season friendly match against Celta Vigo

Cristiano Ronaldo has declared that the Saudi Pro League is superior to Major League Soccer in an interview with Portuguese publication A Bola on Monday.

The pronouncement came only days after Ronaldo’s long-time rival Lionel Messi completed his move to the David Beckham-led club Inter Miami in the MLS.

The Portuguese superstar, who joined Al-Nassr at the end of last year, also revealed he has no intention of playing for a European club again.

“I won’t return to European football, you can forget about it — the door is completely closed for my return.”

The 38-year-old was speaking after Al-Nassr’s 5-0 defeat to LaLiga side Celta Vigo in a pre-season friendly in Lisbon.

“I’m 38 years old, and also Europe has lost a lot of quality. The only one that is one of the best is the Premier League, it’s way ahead of all the other leagues from my point of view.

“The Spanish league lost its level, the Portuguese one is not a top one, the German has also lost a lot of quality. The USA? No, the Saudi championship is much better than the USA.”

Ronaldo’s move to Riyadh has opened the door for an influx of some of the world’s highest profile players into the Roshn Saudi League.

Since the privatization of the Kingdom’s top clubs earlier this summer, the likes of Karim Benzema, Roberto Firmino, N’Golo Kante, Reuben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and other stars have followed Ronaldo’s path to Saudi.

“I’m 100 percent sure I won’t return to any European club,” Ronaldo said. “I opened the way to (the) Saudi league last January, and now all the players are coming here.”

“In one year, more and more top players will come to Saudi,” he added. “In a year the Saudi league will overtake the Turkish league and Dutch league.”


Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah

Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah
Updated 29 February 2024
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Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah

Six things to watch at LIV Golf Jeddah
  • With Brooks Koepka eyeing a ‘three-peat,’ John Rahm makes first appearance in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: It is not an exaggeration to say that all eyes in the world of golf will be on LIV Golf Jeddah in Saudi Arabia this week.

The Public Investment Fund-backed league has done more than enough in the recent past to become one of the strongest tours in the world, but enticing Anthony Kim to return to professional golf is probably the coolest thing it has done so far.

It remains to be seen what sort of form the 38-year-old American will be in after his 12-year hiatus from the sport. He might take some time to get back into the groove but be prepared for the internet to go nuts if he has a good opening round on Friday.

Kim is the mystery man of golf, an almost mythical figure. His talent and his skills were unreal when he played regularly on the PGA Tour, winning three titles before he turned 25, but then he said goodbye to the game at the age of just 26.

Some have described his return to professional golf as being like “the resurfacing of the Loch Ness Monster,” others as a sighting of the golfing world’s “Yeti.”

Kim’s return to competition will certainly be one of the biggest storylines to follow during LIV Golf Jeddah this weekend, but here are six others that could ramp up the excitement at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

Jon Rahm’s first time in Saudi Arabia

World No. 3 Jon Rahm is the biggest signing in LIV Golf history and the mercurial Spaniard, a two-time major champion, including victory at last year’s Masters, is set to make his first appearance in Saudi Arabia this week.

Given the wind and length of the course at Royal Greens, and the peculiarities associated with a desert course, the venue should play right into Rahm’s hands. A phenomenal striker of the ball, he has spent the past decade based in Arizona and so is used to such conditions. He is also a two-time DP World Tour Championship winner in the neighboring UAE, on a similar style of course.

Koepka’s ‘three-peat’ attempt

Brooks Koepka, a five-time major champion, faced tough challenges to the last putt in Jeddah in 2022 and 2023, but emerged victorious from playoffs both times. He beat teammate Peter Uihlein in the inaugural season of LIV Golf, then got better of Talor Gooch last October.

The 33-year-old resident of West Palm Beach, who was the only LIV Golf player on last year’s Ryder Cup team, will be going for an unprecedented “three-peat” this week. Should he succeed, which is very much within the realms of possibility, it will set a hard-to-beat record in the relatively short history of LIV Golf so far.

The Crushers aim to bounce back

The 2023 Team Championship winners, the Bryson DeChambeau-led Crushers GC, have a point to prove in Saudi Arabia. They were cruising toward a team victory last year at Royal Greens, and DeChambeau looked like a lock for his third individual title of the season, when the unthinkable happened. The Crushers juggernaut came to a grinding halt during Sunday’s final round, they dropped to fourth place and DeChambeau slipped up to finish tied for 16th.

They will be keen to prove that the final round last year was nothing more than an aberration.

Niemann’s time to shine

Chile’s Joaquin Niemann is the LIV man in the news, having recently received a special invitation to play at this year’s Masters. It is just reward for all the chasing he has been doing lately, including victory in the Australian Open in December, fourth place in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic in January, and third in the International Series Oman last week. He also won LIV Golf Mayakoba this month, the season opener, which unfortunately did not earn him any world ranking points.

Niemann’s world-class talent is unquestionable and he is clearly fired up at the moment, which makes him a dangerous contender this week.

Saudi specialist DJ back in form

Koepka might be the flavor of the moment at Royal Greens thanks to his back-to-back LIV Golf wins there, but the original boss of the course is his close friend Dustin Johnson, two-time winner of the Saudi International there in 2019 and 2021, with a second place sandwiched between the victories. Even at the LIV Golf events in the past two years, his record is a respectable tie for fifth and a solo sixth place.

Now that the former world No. 1 has finally gotten over his short title drought with a win in Las Vegas this month, be prepared to perhaps see some fireworks once again from the big American.

The change of schedule

In 2022, Koepka won the tournament with a 12-under-par total, and finished on 14-under when he successfully defended his title last year.

A major change to the tournament this year, however, is that it is being played in the first week of March, when the conditions will much cooler compared with the October scheduling of previous years. Royal Greens will therefore feel like a different course, with changed wind directions and slightly softer greens. Expect the scores to be lower, therefore, unless the Red Sea has different ideas and starts blowing high winds towards the course.


Medvedev cruises into Dubai semifinals

Medvedev cruises into Dubai semifinals
Updated 29 February 2024
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Medvedev cruises into Dubai semifinals

Medvedev cruises into Dubai semifinals
  • The world number four wasted little time in wrapping up a 6-2, 6-3 win
  • The Russian is playing in just his second tournament of the season after reaching the Australian Open final

DUBAI: Daniil Medvedev raced to victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Thursday to reach the Dubai semifinals and continue his excellent start to the year.
The world number four wasted little time in wrapping up a 6-2, 6-3 win and will face either Hubert Hurkacz or Ugo Humbert in the last four.
The Russian is playing in just his second tournament of the season after reaching the Australian Open final, where he suffered an agonizing defeat by Jannik Sinner after leading by two sets.
Reigning champion Medvedev is bidding to defend an ATP title for the first time, having won 20 trophies at Tour-level events in his career but all at different tournaments.
Medvedev eased through the opening set with breaks in the sixth and eighth games.
He powered into a 4-0 lead in the second and sealed victory on his first match point, despite a brief rally from Davidovich Fokina, who has now lost all four of his meetings with Medvedev.
Alexander Bublik and Andrey Rublev will meet in the other semifinal after both were beneficiaries of retirements in their last-eight matches.
Kazakhstan’s Bublik led 6-4, 4-1 when his opponent Jiri Lehecka quit their tie with injury.
Second seed Rublev was 6-4, 4-3 ahead when American Sebastian Korda left the court in the second quarter-final.
The win ended a run of three successive quarter-final exits for world number five Rublev.


Jeddah race to showcase Red Sea city’s charm

Jeddah race to showcase Red Sea city’s charm
Updated 29 February 2024
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Jeddah race to showcase Red Sea city’s charm

Jeddah race to showcase Red Sea city’s charm
  • Half marathon hosted by Saudi Sports for All Federation, Historic Jeddah Program
  • Runners of all ages, abilities will pass famous landmarks over 4 routes

JEDDAH: Runners in Jeddah will take in the city’s charming sights on March 3 during a half marathon hosted by the Saudi Sports for All Federation and Historic Jeddah Program.
The event will include four routes for male and female runners of all ages and fitness levels.
The Historic Jeddah Program was launched by the Saudi Ministry of Culture to elevate the Red Sea port city as a key center of heritage within the Kingdom.
Bab Jadid, known as Jeddah Old Gate, will serve as the start and finish line for all race routes.
Adults can take part in the half marathon distance of 21 km, while the 10 km race is open to runners aged 12 and above.
Meanwhile, the two other races of 4 km and 1 km are open to runners of all ages and fitness levels, including those with special needs or disabilities.
The event will feature a range of activities within the race village, which is welcoming visitors starting Thursday.
Musical and cultural shows will be held, alongside a range of traditional food offerings for visitors.
The race routes pass by charming streets and famous historical landmarks, including Naseef House, the Al-Matbouli Museum, Al-Jafali Mosque, King Fahd Fountain and the Jeddah Corniche.


Racism in sport: a local or global issue?

Racism in sport: a local or global issue?
Updated 29 February 2024
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Racism in sport: a local or global issue?

Racism in sport: a local or global issue?
  • Cricketer Azeem Rafiq’s upcoming book detailing his troubling experiences in the English game will provide lessons for some — and pose difficult questions for others

On Feb. 23, I participated in the inaugural gathering of the Cricket Research Network. This has been initiated by a group of British academics whose research specializations focus on cricket. Their focus is to bring together researchers, writers on cricket, journalists and others with an interest in the game. Their purpose is to provide a forum for disseminating research results to a wider audience than achieved currently on a fragmented basis. It is hoped that a more coordinated approach may lead to a greater voice and input into decision making by the game’s policymakers.

Although there were several papers on issues in other countries, the focus at this stage is on cricket in England and Wales. In that sense, it was fitting that the venue for the conference was Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, the home of the only non-English county cricket club, one fiercely proud of its heritage. This was well exemplified by the displays on view in the Museum where the sessions were held. Proceedings were well-mannered, the only hints of discord arising in relation to two of English and Welsh most emotional topics — The Hundred and structural racism in the game.

The latter had been given an adrenaline shot three days before the conference took place. This was in the form of a hearing of the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport, which was continuing the work it began in 2021. At its first hearing, on Nov. 16, 2021, Azeem Rafiq testified about his experiences at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Earlier, in March 2021, the England and Wales Cricket Board announced the setting up of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket to look at issues of diversity, inclusion and equity in cricket, at all levels and in all roles. Terms of reference were established in July 2021, followed by an online call for evidence in November 2021 that generated about 4,200 responses. A call for written evidence in March 2022 resulted in 150 responses. The findings, based on the evidence and underpinning research, were published in June 2023.

No punches were pulled by the commission, which concluded that “structural and institutional racism” exists within the game, women are treated as “subordinate” to men at all levels of the sport, Black cricket has been failed, and there is a prevalence of “elitism and class-based discrimination.” It was left to the ECB, under new leadership, to formulate how it would respond and draw up measures to address the ICEC’s recommendations.

A major part of the select committee hearing last week, also under new leadership, was to explore how much progress has been made since June 2023. In the first part of the hearing, three ICEC commissioners reported that the ECB had accepted all of their findings, most of their recommendations, along with displaying a commitment to tackle the issues. However, several press headlines focussed on the disappointment that the ICEC chair expressed about Lord Botham’s disparaging response to the report, given that he chairs a county cricket club.

In the second part of the hearing, the ECB’s chair revealed that he had spoken privately to Lord Botham to say that he did not agree with his views. It may safely be assumed that they would not be welcomed by the ECB’s leadership. They are faced with a herculean task to implement the ICEC’s recommendations. Failure to do so will pose questions about the board’s fitness for purpose and caliber of personnel. Finance is also an issue. In the last cycle up to 2024, sale of media rights accounted for 75 percent of the ECB’s income, about $260 million. In his testimony to the select committee, ECB’s chair said that in the new cycle to 2028, media rights have been sold that equate to around 90 percent of income.

This is a highly vulnerable, seemingly unavoidable, position. The need to attract additional funding into the game, partly in order to finance the ICEC’s recommendations, is encapsulated in the conundrum of The Hundred. It is now highly probable that private investment will be allowed into the competition using a model that is still to be finalized. Into this equation steps the returning Chair of YCCC, Colin Graves. He accepted an invitation to appear in front of the select committee for the third part of its hearing, alongside YCCC’s retiring chair. Cricket’s ability to polarize views seems to know no bounds, and Graves is a potent example. Even the committee chair remarked that he is “a gentleman who divides opinions.”

This potential was aptly demonstrated in response to a question asking why he had not picked up the phone to apologize to Rafiq. Graves’ response was that he “did not feel that was appropriate at the time.” Graves was executive chair of YCCC between 2012 and 2015, before becoming ECB chair between 2015 and 2020. It has always been difficult to understand why, during those years, he claims to have been unaware that racism might exist in cricket. He says that he “read about the complaints in the papers, just like everyone else.”

This has been and still is a sordid affair, which is not yet over. My sense, from listening and taking to people in the game, is that English and Welsh cricket is tired of the matter. They feel that the issue is being addressed, so leave us alone. Rafiq is branded as a controversial character. He is now exiled from the UK. Graves has returned to be in charge of YCCC. Where, one might ask, is the equity in this? Money, power and control appear to rule the roost.

In late April a book is due to be published under Rafiq’s name, chronicling his unsavory journey. It is likely to have lessons for others. One such lesson is that someone who has the bravery to stand up for their cause may, not for the first time, be downed by those with vested interest. It is for this reason, alone, that racism in sport is a global matter.


PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season

PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season
Updated 29 February 2024
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PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season

PSG coach Luis Enrique promises ‘much better team’ next season
  • “If everything goes well I am convinced we will have a much better team than this year,” the Spaniard said
  • “I am convinced, as much in defense as in attack, in the midfield, tactically, physically”

POISSY, France: Paris Saint-Germain coach Luis Enrique on Thursday promised that the French giants will have a stronger team next season despite the impending departure of Kylian Mbappe when the superstar forward’s contract expires.
“If everything goes well I am convinced we will have a much better team than this year,” the Spaniard said after refusing to name specific targets when asked if AC Milan forward Rafael Leao was on the club’s shopping list.
“I am convinced, as much in defense as in attack, in the midfield, tactically, physically,” added the former Barcelona and Spain coach.
His comments came after he took Mbappe off with PSG trailing in last week’s 1-1 draw against Rennes.
Luis Enrique later said the Ligue 1 leaders needed to become accustomed to life without Mbappe, who recently informed PSG of his decision to leave at the end of the current campaign.
“Sooner or later, when it happens, we are going to have to get used to playing without Kylian,” he said after that game.
PSG are 11 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 before going to Mbappe’s former club Monaco on Friday, when they will be without captain Marquinhos due to a calf injury.
They then travel to Spain to face Real Sociedad in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie next Tuesday, defending a 2-0 lead from the first meeting.
“Obviously we are entering into a difficult period. The players really want to win things and this is the key point in the season, the best time,” Luis Enrique said.
“It is all or nothing, and that is a nice feeling.”