Carlo Nohra: Interest in Saudi Pro League is testament to the quality of players recruited in the summer

Carlo Nohra, the Saudi Pro League’s chief operating officer who since June has been plotting the next steps in the league’s growth, spoke to Arab News. (Supplied/Saudi Pro League)
Carlo Nohra, the Saudi Pro League’s chief operating officer who since June has been plotting the next steps in the league’s growth, spoke to Arab News. (Supplied/Saudi Pro League)
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Updated 02 December 2023
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Carlo Nohra: Interest in Saudi Pro League is testament to the quality of players recruited in the summer

Carlo Nohra: Interest in Saudi Pro League is testament to the quality of players recruited in the summer
  • The SPL’s chief operating officer says the ‘Ronaldo factor’ has accelerated the journey

RIYADH: In front of a packed King Fahd Stadium, Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr played out a Riyadh derby that radiated significance well beyond Saudi Arabia’s capital city on Friday night.

The top-of-the-table Saudi Pro League clash brought together two clubs whose profile is now growing well beyond the Kingdom’s borders.

While Al-Hilal claimed a 3-0 victory that extended their lead at the summit to seven points, this was an opportunity to showcase Saudi football to a wider audience.

The media center brimmed with international representatives sampling the Kingdom’s football culture for the first time and though injured Al-Hilal star Neymar was absent, the home fans created a carnival atmosphere at the King Fahd.

Among those watching in Riyadh was Carlo Nohra, the Saudi Pro League’s chief operating officer, who since June has been plotting the next steps in the league’s growth.

What began with Cristiano Ronaldo’s marquee signing by Al-Nassr in January evolved into a summer influx of new talent and a host of global broadcast rights deals.

“We said at the very least we needed to go out and distribute the broadcast rights through the world,” Nohra told Arab News at the King Fahd Stadium.

“We couldn’t predict what the appetite would be so the fact that people have both taken and paid for them is testament to the quality of players we’ve brought into the league.

“Did we expect to be here at this stage? No. But the Ronaldo factor has contributed to the acceleration of our journey.”

More eyes are on the league than ever before and Nohra believes the next steps are vital in creating a sustainable, self-sufficient product that is not perennially reliant on investment.

He said: “Over time we know we have to be revenue-generating and move from where we are today with 100 percent dependence on government money to exactly the opposite end, where we are fully independent financially.

“It’s a historic time and such a rare opportunity and great privilege to be here but we know this is a massive project and undertaking and it will take us a long time to achieve those objectives.

“We’ve taken the first early steps. We’re where the J-League was in 1993 and MLS in 1996. It’s a long journey ahead but we definitely still have major aspirations.”

Among those objectives for Nohra — the former CEO of Emirati clubs Al-Jazira and Al-Ain, as well as the UAE Football League — is a desire to revolutionize the relationship between players and fans.

Nohra’s most recent role before the Saudi Pro League was a seven-year stint as vice president and general manager of WWE Asia Pacific and he feels that football can learn a lot from wrestling.

He said: “Stepping out of football and seeing what happens elsewhere was such a valuable experience. It helps you understand that there is a different, and perhaps better, way of doing things.

“Right now, our athletes are not performers, but they should be. We need to better connect them with the fans because there is that great divide between the player and the fan that adores them. WWE is great at this and I hope we can develop a new environment that fosters this.”

It is just one of Nohra’s lofty ambitions for the Saudi Pro League, but more pressing are a series of fundamental infrastructure challenges. Providing a better fan experience is central to Nohra’s manifesto.

“Almost everywhere you turn, there is something that needs to be improved but it is impossible to do everything at the same time,” he said. “At the moment the customer journey for Saudi football needs to be of a much higher quality.

“We are working on the access to the stadium, getting tickets in a more regulated fashion through new platforms. These are some of the pain points right now because what is the point in having a good product on the pitch if people can’t get to the stadium to watch it?”

Despite the teething problems in the Saudi Pro League’s development, the attention given to Friday’s Riyadh derby is indicative of the potential that the division has to capture the imagination of a wider audience.

“Football will always be the real product and it has existed in this country for a long time,” Nohra says.

“We know we can put on good football matches, that’s not the issue. We just want to put on more of these matches that are meaningful for the rest of the world to watch.

“Sometimes we wonder if we should have focused on infrastructure first before the players but there is no question that the presence of these players has triggered the attention and investment to deal with these other areas.

“Bringing the players was key and it’s wonderful to see the interest that we’ve generated.”


3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part

3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part
Updated 18 sec ago
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3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part

3rd annual Rally Jameel gets underway in Hail, with 110 women taking part
  • 55 teams of racers, each comprising a driver and co-driver, from 36 nations will tackle 5 stages over the course of 5 days, covering a total distance of 1,600 km

 

HAIL: The third annual Rally Jameel began in Hail on Monday, with 110 leading female racers from Saudi Arabia, the region and the rest of the world competing in an event that will pass through Hail, AlUla, Umluj, Yanbu and King Abdullah Economic City during five days of racing.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Saad, the governor of Hail Region, flagged off the competitors at the start of opening stage, which began at Al-Maghwah Amusement Park, to officially get the world-class navigational rally underway.

Fifty-five teams of racers, each comprising a driver and co-driver, from 36 nations will tackle five stages covering a total distance of 1,600 kilometers before crossing the finish line at KAEC on Friday.

Munir Khoja, the managing director of marketing communications at Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, told Arab News at the event on Monday: “We are all ready for the challenge. Since its inception in 2022, the importance of Rally Jameel has grown with its participation.

“It was the first motor sports event for women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region. Since then it has been present in the motor-sporting calendar ever since and gained international interest and official attention after the rise in popularity of rallying, locally, regionally and internationally.

“Today we have over 100 participants from 36 nationalities, exceeding our expectations. More importantly, it is an inspiring testament to our efforts aimed at supporting Saudi Arabia’s vision to empower women.”

After passing mandatory vehicle checks on Monday morning, several of the leading competitors spoke to the media before the start of the race.

“I am so excited to repeat this experience with the rest of the female drivers,” Saudi driver Maha Al-Hamali, who has competed in the event before, told Arab News. “We really appreciate the support of Jameel Motor Sports and I am focusing on enjoying this rally and aiming to win it this time.”

Her co-driver, Eleanor Coker from the US, added: “We have done everything we could. We did our homework and reflected on our experience. We feel we are prepared and confident to win but you never know; there are amazing female drivers from all over the world taking part part but we will go ahead and enjoy it.”

Fawzia Bakhshab, who is taking part in the rally for the first time, said she expects it to be a tough challenge, especially as she and her co-driver are taking on some of the best in the world.

“I think we feel ready and are looking forward to finishing among the top positions,” she said.

Her co–driver, Calheine Taye Perry from Germany, said she was confident that they have the driving and navigation skills to challenge for the title.

Rally Jameel is supported by the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission and the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, in keeping with the commitment of authorities in the Kingdom to fostering and encouraging participation in sport among women.


Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League

Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League
Updated 04 March 2024
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Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League

Ronaldo back in action for Al-Nassr but cannot prevent defeat by Al-Ain in Asian Champions League
  • The 1-0 defeat in the first leg of the quarter-finals leaves the Saudi side with a lot to do in the home leg next Monday
  • Rahimi cut in from the left, latched onto Alejandro Romero’s beautiful pass into the area, and skipped past Ospina to shoot into an empty net

AL-AIN: Cristiano Ronaldo was back in the Al-Nassr lineup on Monday, after serving a one-game Saudi Pro League suspension for gesturing toward opposing fans during a recent game, but could not prevent his team falling to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Ain in the first leg of their Asian Champions League quarter-final.

It means they have much work to do at home next Monday if they are to progress to the semi-finals, where they would face one of their domestic rivals: Al-Hilal or Al-Ittihad.

Monday’s game was a far-from-vintage performance from Al-Nassr, who lacked fluidity and rhythm and struggled to create clear chances, despite having more possession than the 2003 champions. A late red card for Aymeric Laporte did not help matters.

Al-Nassr, who are looking for their first Champions League title, started brightly, however, with Sadio Mane testing goalkeeper Khalid Eisa in the second minute. Four minutes later, fans had a glimpse of Ronaldo’s ability but the Portuguese star’s spectacular overhead kick bounced wide.

Midway through the half, Al-Ain, led by Hernan Crespo, very nearly took the lead when the lively Soufiane Rahimi turned outside the area to unleash a first-time shot that was creeping into the far corner until David Ospina got down well to turn it away for a corner.

There was nothing the former Arsenal goalkeeper could do in the 28th minute, however, when Al-Ain got the ball in the net and the 22,000 fans in the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on their feet. The goalkeeper delivered a long kick to the right wing where Rahimi was waiting to send a low cross into the six-yard box for Kaku to convert from close range. Fortunately for Al-Nassr, the video assistant referee ruled that Rahimi had strayed just offside.

He made amends for this just before the break when he cut in from the left, latched onto Alejandro Romero’s beautiful pass into the area, and skipped past Ospina to shoot into an empty net.

Ronaldo replied almost immediately with a stinging half-volley from the right of the area, which brought a great save from the goalkeeper. Early in the second half, he had another good chance but could not quite get hold of a right-sided cross from Ayman Yahya and his shot bounced over. Soon after, Yahya attempted a low shot that was saved by Eisa.

Al-Nassr grew increasingly frustrated and their night almost got worse when, with 20 minutes remaining, Rahimi broke free to put the ball in the net. But for the second time, he was ruled to have strayed offside and the goal was disallowed.

With 12 minutes remaining, Al-Nassr had one of their better chances of the night when Mane headed the ball back across goal from the far post, but Sami Al-Najei fired his low shot wide.

Then Ronaldo came even closer. A low cross from the left found its way to him just outside the six-yard box and everyone expected the net to bulge. Instead, Eisa, who was going the wrong way, stuck out a hand to make a top-class save.

Things then started to get scrappy and bad-tempered, which suited Al-Ain a lot more than their visitors, but there was always a sense that there would be at least one more big chance before the end, especially when the referee added 11 minutes of stoppage time.

Unfortunately for Al-Nassr, the most notable event of this added time was the red card for Laporte. The former Manchester City defender bundled over Bandar Al-Ahbabi as they jostled for position in the area and, after checking the pitch-side monitor, the referee ruled it was violent conduct.

This summed up a miserable evening for Al-Nassr, who almost equalized late on through an attempted lob by Ronaldo from the halfway line. They will be be without Laporte for the second leg in Riyadh next Monday and improvement is needed if they are going to keep their Asian dreams alive.


Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar

Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar
Updated 18 min 58 sec ago
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Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar

Shadab leads Islamabad to 29-run Pakistan Super League win over Peshawar
  • Shadab Khan scored 80 runs from 51 balls and then dismissed three Peshawar batsman
  • Peshawar faltered at 167 in their 197-run chase, despite an 87-run knock by Aamir Jamal

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad United defeated Peshawar Zalmi by 29 runs in their Pakistan Super League (PSL) 9th edition match at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium on Monday.

Peshawar won the toss and sent Islamabad in to bat in the game. Shadab Khan top-scored with 80 runs from 51 deliveries as Islamabad dominated the game.

Salman Ali Agha 37 runs and Azam Khan 29 runs to take their side to 196 at a loss of four wickets. In the second innings, Peshawar batting was rattled by Khan and the Babar Azam-led side was restricted to 167 runs.

"Dominant at home," PSL commented on X after the match. "Islamabad United get valuable two points on the board with a 29-run triumph!"

 

 

Saim Ayub returned two Islamabad batsmen to pavilion for 15 runs, while Luke Wood and Salman Irshad took one wicket each.

Peshawar did not begin their 197-run chase well, losing their skipper for a duck. Aamir Jamal put up a brilliant resistance as he scored 87 runs from 49 deliveries, but that was not enough.

Paul Walter hit 33 and Tom Kohler-Cadmore scored 12 as Peshawar ended the innings at 167 at a loss of nine wickets.

Shadab Khan dismissed three for 41 runs, while Hunain Shah and Rumman Raees took two wickets each.

Both Islamabad and Peshawar now have three wins from their seven matches played this season.


Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha

Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha
Updated 04 March 2024
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Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha

Saudis victorious at GCC Golf Championship in Doha
  • Khalid Attiya took top prize in individual competition while the team event saw Kingdom’s golfers awarded gold
  • Prince Khalid bin Saud: Our team’s prowess and dedication were evident throughout the championship, culminating in a well-deserved victory

DOHA: Saudi golfers have emerged triumphant at the Gulf Cooperation Council Golf Championship, claiming gold in both the team and individual categories.

The 26th edition of the tournament for adults — held alongside the 15th edition for youth — was hosted at the Doha Club in the Qatari capital and saw five teams from the GCC take part.

The individual gold medal went to Khalid Attiya, who clinched victory after a showdown with Qatari contender Saleh Al-Kaabi on the tournament’s final day.

The Saudi’s four rounds yielded 297 strokes, for an impressive nine-under winning total.

Meanwhile, the Saudi team maintained a commanding lead throughout the championship to secure the top position in the adults category.

Noah Alireza, CEO of Golf Saudi, praised the Saudi team’s achievement, highlighting their consistent excellence throughout the championship.

“At Golf Saudi, our unwavering dedication is to foster players’ success,” Alireza said, highlighting the significance of the the championship as a platform for players to hone their skills against the best of the GCC.

Prince Khalid bin Saud, a prominent player, commended the Saudi team’s performance, attributing their success to the invaluable support of the Saudi Golf Federation.

“Our team’s prowess and dedication were evident throughout the championship, culminating in a well-deserved victory,” he said.

Following his victory, Attiya expressed his gratitude for the unwavering support of the Saudi Golf Federation, which enabled him and the team to emerge victorious.

“The Saudi team’s strong presence and performance were instrumental in securing our place atop the podium,” he said.


Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum

Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum
Updated 04 March 2024
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Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum

Saudi Ministry of Education Integrates rugby into physical education curriculum
  • Initially starting in Riyadh, training programs will be offered to 25 girls’ schools and 25 boys’ schools before expanding to the rest of the Kingdom
  • Initiative underscores the Ministry of Education’s commitment to diversifying sports education and promoting physical activity among the youth

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Education has announced today the inclusion of rugby as an elective sport within its physical education and student activities curriculum.

The School Rugby Initiative aims to introduce rugby as an optional learning unit in PE programs across the nation.

As part of this initiative, ongoing training courses will be offered to 25 girls’ schools and 25 boys’ schools across various educational stages. Initially launching in the Riyadh educational region, the program is part of a planned expansion to other regions of the Kingdom in the coming years.

The initiative was officially launched with a presentation by the technical director of the Saudi Arabian Rugby Federation, Sami Mohammed Samara, to 46 physical education teachers from public schools in Riyadh, culminating in a symbolic gesture of tossing rugby balls from ministry representatives to the teachers, marking the kickoff of this groundbreaking initiative.

Recognizing rugby sevens as an Olympic sport, the inclusion of rugby in the curriculum is poised to expand and accelerate the pathway for young players to excel in the sport. This strategic move aims to cultivate a strong foundation for rugby in the Kingdom, enabling aspiring athletes to represent Saudi Arabia in elite sporting events, including the Olympics.

Ali Musbah Al-Dajani, president of the Saudi Rugby Federation, and Dr. Anwar bin Abdullah Abu Abbad, head of student activities, both expressed their enthusiasm and support for the initiative, highlighting its potential to enrich the physical education landscape and foster a new generation of rugby enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia.

This initiative underscores the Ministry of Education’s commitment to diversifying sports education and promoting physical activity among the youth, aligning with broader educational and developmental goals within the Kingdom.