IOC president attends Saudi Games events

IOC president attends Saudi Games events
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach met with Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, president of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and senior staff. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 December 2023
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IOC president attends Saudi Games events

IOC president attends Saudi Games events
  • Thomas Bach welcomes sporting ‘transformation’ taking place in the Kingdom
  • Growing role of women in Saudi sports movement wins praise from Olympics chief

With the Saudi Games set to conclude, the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach paid an official visit to the Kingdom, where he met Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, president of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, as well as leadership staff of the Saudi Olympic movement.

“The development of sport in Saudi Arabia is extremely impressive,” Bach said on Saturday during his two-day visit. “I don’t think I’ve seen such a transformation of sport in such a short period of time in any country.”

Bach praised the inclusion of more women in sports and also leading positions within the sporting movement.

“That’s why we are feeling close to home because, in our Olympic agenda, we are trying to drive the same transformation,” he said.

Prince Fahad bin Jalawi, vice president of the SOPC; Princess Dilayl bint Nahar, deputy director of the Saudi Games; and Abdulaziz Baashen, CEO and secretary-general of the SOPC, also attended the meetings.

During the meeting and tour visit, Prince Abdulaziz and Bach discussed the significant role that the Kingdom plays on the global sports stage, thanks to Vision 2030, and its plans to host major sporting events, such as the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2025, the Asian Winter Games in 2029, and the Asian Games in 2034.

Following the meeting, Bach attended several Saudi Games events, including the finals of beach volleyball and tennis, and also toured the “Fan Zone” area within the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Olympic Complex in Riyadh.

Bach’s visit to the Kingdom is his third since assuming the presidency of the IOC in 2013.


Namibia spring surprise in ICC League 2 opening series

Namibia spring surprise in ICC League 2 opening series
Updated 6 sec ago
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Namibia spring surprise in ICC League 2 opening series

Namibia spring surprise in ICC League 2 opening series
  • African side clocks up three wins from four games in Nepal
  • Next round of matches in UAE will feature hosts, Scotland, Canada

KATHMANDU: The opening series of matches in the new International Cricket Council World Cup League 2 cycle ended this week with a shock victory for Namibia in Nepal, as the tournament prepares to move on to the UAE, who will host Scotland and Canada.

Namibia won three out of their four matches in tough conditions, including a double over the hosts.

Nepal came back from the defeat in their second match to spring a shock of their own by beating perennial World Cup participants the Netherlands. It was a torrid tournament for the Dutch, who lost their first match to Namibia.

The series ended with Namibia on six points, the Netherlands on four and Nepal on two.

Namibia’s coach Pierre de Bruyn told Arab News he was “over the moon” with his team’s performance in the opening round.

“Last year we lost four games in Nepal and we learned a lot from that,” he said. “Winning six points in Nepal is incredible, beating them twice at home and taking points off them. It’s early days but we realized how important a point could be last time and that we should be ruthless in order to take points.”

Nepal, who only lost two home series in the entire 2019-23 League 2 campaign, had a series to forget this time round, with inconsistent batting from an ever-changing middle order.

Head coach Monty Desai said his team would now be doing all they could to win away from home.

“Losing at home hurts, but if you want to be known as the associate’s top team, away games are equally important,” he said. “We have been working very hard and need to bring maturity to it.”

Netherlands coach Ryan Cook rejected the notion that his team’s two defeats were a shock, despite their higher One Day International ranking.

“Shocking? Not at all. This is a very competitive league and it’s completely different game of cricket,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to adapt to those conditions. We are entering a new era in terms of the league.”

The next series of games feature the UAE, Scotland and Canada.

Canada’s coach Pubudu Dassanayake, who led Nepal in the 2019-23 League 2 cycle, said he was happy with his team’s performances in a series of warmup games played recently in Nepal.

“More than winning and losing, we were exposed in all three departments (of batting, bowling and fielding). More than just winning, I am happy we could find out our weaknesses. We expect to have our fast bowlers back to full fitness and perform in those conditions (in the UAE),” he said.

Oman and the US make up the eight teams that feature in the 2023-27 League 2 competition. Each side will play 36 matches — 12 at home, 12 away and 12 at a neutral ground — across nine triangular series. The top four will advance to the ICC Cricket World Cup qualifier and the chance to secure a place in the tournament proper.


Medvedev makes winning return after Australian Open final loss

Medvedev makes winning return after Australian Open final loss
Updated 43 min 41 sec ago
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Medvedev makes winning return after Australian Open final loss

Medvedev makes winning return after Australian Open final loss
  • He will meet either Lorenzo Sonego or wild card Sumit Nagal in the next round
  • In January, Medvedev reached his second Australian Open final

DUBAI: Daniil Medvedev returned to action for the first time since his Australian final defeat on Tuesday with a straight sets win over Alexander Shevchenko in Dubai.
The world number four got his title defense at the hardcourt ATP 500 event up and running, overcoming Shevchenko 6-3, 7-5.
The Russian shrugged off his month-long absence, breaking his Kazakh opponent in three consecutive return games in the first set before reeling off four games in a row from 3-5 in the second set to complete an 88-minute triumph.
He will meet either Lorenzo Sonego or wild card Sumit Nagal in the next round.
In January, Medvedev reached his second Australian Open final. He lost to Rafael Nadal in the Melbourne decider two years ago, and this time had to settle for second best in the season’s opening Grand Slam to Jannik Sinner.
He was forced to skip his title defense in Doha last week because he was dealing with a number of physical issues — with his foot, adductor, and shoulder — but said on the eve of Tuesday’s return he was ready to get back on court after spending the last seven days training in Dubai.
The 28-year-old has added French former world number six Gilles Simon to his team, to collaborate with his long-time coach Gilles Cervara.


Arab martial arts pioneer Osamah Almarwai chasing another title shot at ONE 166 in Qatar

Arab martial arts pioneer Osamah Almarwai chasing another title shot at ONE 166 in Qatar
Updated 27 February 2024
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Arab martial arts pioneer Osamah Almarwai chasing another title shot at ONE 166 in Qatar

Arab martial arts pioneer Osamah Almarwai chasing another title shot at ONE 166 in Qatar
  • A world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the 31-year-old is setting an example for other Arab fighters at the highest level of grappling
  • Almarwai trains at the famed ATOS Jiu-Jitsu academy alongside ONE Championship champions Kade and Tye Ruotolo

Osamah Almarwai was born and raised in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents and will compete in the Middle East for the first time since becoming a black belt when he takes on Cleber Sousa at ONE 166 on March 1 in Qatar.

“Osa” was the first athlete from the region to become an IBJJF world champion and is immensely proud to be blazing a trail for Arabic fighters at the highest level of grappling.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu star moved to the US to study English when he was a teenager and is intent on achieving his dream of a ONE World Title and inspiring the next crop of youngsters to follow his path.

“It’s an honor for me to represent our region, make history and inspire future generations,” Almarwai told Arab News.

The 31-year-old trains at the famed ATOS Jiu-Jitsu academy alongside ONE Championship champions Kade and Tye Ruotolo, and under grappling legend Andre Galvao.

“Before ATOS, I was training in small academies, so I hope this can inspire a lot of young people that it can happen, you know, no matter where you train, as long as you put the work in,” Almarwai said, reflecting on his journey so far.

“A lot of fans message me videos of their kids doing jiu-jitsu, and I didn’t know that I had influence on people in the region, you know, so it’s a very big honor for me, and I hope I can keep inspiring them. Now that I’m on ONE Championship in the first event in the Middle East in Qatar, I cannot tell you how much that means to me,” he added.

Having garnered global attention from his world title win, Almarwai was called out by ONE Flyweight Submission Grappling World Champion Mikey Musumeci. “Darth Rigatoni” provided a baptism of fire for the ATOS star’s promotional debut and won via rear-naked choke submission at ONE Fight Night 10 last year.

In Sousa, Almarwai faces another formidable opponent but an opportunity to get back on the path to ONE Championship gold.

“I love it, man. I called him out a while ago, and now it’s happening. He’s a tough opponent, very explosive, and I’m very excited for this matchup. The fans should expect a very exciting match and hopefully the sub for me,” said the Jeddah-born fighter.

“Clandestino” will also be making his sophomore appearance for the organization and is also coming off of a loss to Musumeci on his debut.

“I believe I have better technique than him,” said Almarwai.

“He’s more explosive, probably, but in terms of strategy and so on, I feel I’m better than him at that aspect, but both of us will be pushing the pace, you know? If you can, if we see our matches, we’re always like pushing the pace and both of us are always going for submissions,” he added.

With this being ONE Championship’s first show in the Middle East, the card represents part of a massive boom for combat sports in MENA in recent years.

“I think the Middle East is going to take over the martial arts scene, especially with the financial capabilities,” the BJJ icon said.

“I think a lot of fighters are very interested and are coming over here. When I started competing in jiu-jitsu, that wasn’t the case. We didn’t have that much martial arts, but now I’ve seen it growing, and being part of it, and being part of that success, it means a lot to me, you know? I cannot wait to see how the martial arts scene in the Middle East is going to be in the next five or 10 years,” he added.

Aside from wanting to start his own academy to nurture the scene further, Almarwai dreams of feeling the weight of the ONE World Title on his shoulders.

“My goal is to win this match, make another match, and then get another shot at the title. I don’t know if it’s going be Mikey, but I really want to win that ONE Championship belt. I remember my previous match; I had the photo shoot where I had the belt on me, and that belt is so heavy. It feels good.”


Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
Updated 27 February 2024
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Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
  • Briton fights back from a set down to secure landmark 500th hard court career win and safe passage at ATP 500 event
  • Frustrated sixth-seed Mannarino falls to the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp in straight sets after warning for on-court anger

DUBAI: Former champion Andy Murray dug deep to edge out Canada’s Denis Shapovalov 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in front of a jubilant center court crowd at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday night.

The come-from-behind victory saw Murray — who claimed a solitary Dubai title in 2017 — register a landmark 500th career win on hard courts. He becomes only the fifth player to achieve the feat, joining luminaries of the game Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi.

“It’s not bad, is it?” Murray said after reaching the milestone. “Hard courts have been a great surface for me over the years, and getting to 500 is a lot of matches. I am very proud of that, not a lot of players have done it, so it’s great to do it before I’m done.”

In challenging winds, the twilight ATP 500 round of 32 match started with eight consecutive service holds as both players found early rhythm. The first break points arrived in game nine, as Shapovalov found the outer corners of center court with a pair of dazzling one-handed backhand winners. After squandering the first chance, the 24-year-old grabbed the second to move 5-4 up, then held serve to claim the first set.

With both players holding serve for the first three games of the second set, Murray finally broke the big-serving Shapovalov in game four. The Brit’s ecstasy, however, immediately turned to agony as Shapovalov instantly broke back, then held, to make it 3-3.

As Murray, 12 years his opponent’s senior, increasingly threatened the Shapovalov serve, the Canadian’s monstrous first service cannons got him out of jail on numerous occasions. Murray, receiving, regularly stood some way behind the Dubai signage adorning the hardcourt beyond the baseline. The tactic proved fruitless, as Shapovalov unleashed 215-km serves time after time with pinpoint accuracy.

Battle-worn and grimacing repeatedly after several points near the end of the second set, Murray found emergency reserves of energy to force a tiebreak, which he won 7-5 to level the match — much to the delight of an adoring crowd.

Murray then broke Shapovalov in the opening game of the third set, which progressed on serve until 5-3 when Shapovalov suddenly found himself serving to stay in the match. With unforced errors now littering the Canadian’s game, Murray unleashed a glorious backhand winner at 30-30 to set up match point. It proved to be the only opportunity the British veteran needed, as Shapovalov volleyed Murray’s return of serve into the net.

In the ATP 500 event’s opening match on center court, the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp upset sixth seed Adrian Mannarino, the world No. 19, in straight sets. With both players holding serve and almost politely swapping breaks enroute to a 6-6 stalemate, Van de Zandschulp, the world No. 75, managed to pull clear in the tiebreak to seal it 7-3.

After the umpire handed Mannarino a conduct warning between sets for smashing his racquet in frustration, the second set remained a tight affair. Eleven consecutive holds of serve suggested another tiebreak lay in wait, but Van de Zandschulp got the better of his French opponent’s service game at exactly the right time to triumph 7-6, 7-5 in just under two hours.

In the evening games under the lights, world No. 5 Andrey Rublev safely negotiated his route to the round of 16, defeating Zhizhen Zhang 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. The former Dubai champion was made to fight by his opponent, however, with the serve of the world No. 46 looking particularly formidable as he claimed the first set.

“It was a really tough match,” said Rublev. “I started well, but he was serving unreal. I don’t know how high his percentage was on the first serve, but it feels like some games lasted only one second, and serves were around 220 and super tough to return.”

A center court surprise came even closer in the following match as world No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz came within two match points of crashing out in the first round. His tie with German Jan-Lennard Struff went the distance as both men held their thumping serves for three straight sets, before the Pole squeezed through on the decisive set tiebreak to claim a 7-6, 4-7, 7-6 win.

“He’s such a great guy and great opponent,” said Hurkacz, who will face either Christopher O’Connell or Maximilian Marterer in the round of 16. “In the end, I got a little bit lucky, but I tried to compete until the last point and that is what I always try to do. It could have gone either way.”


Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup

Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup
Updated 27 February 2024
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Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup

Embattled Bayern Munich appoint new sports director to oversee shakeup
  • Bavarian powerhouse said the 50-year-old Eberl signed a contract through June 2027 and will begin on Friday
  • Eberl will be charged with rejuvenating a team that has lost its aura of dominance

BERLIN: Stung by the prospect of a first season without a major trophy for 12 years, Bayern Munich appointed Max Eberl as their new sporting director to oversee a major shakeup.

The Bavarian powerhouse said on Monday the 50-year-old Eberl signed a contract through June 2027 and will begin on Friday. He was to appear at a press conference with club president Herbert Hainer and chief executive Jan-Christian Dreesen on Tuesday.

Eberl will be charged with rejuvenating a team that has lost its aura of dominance and no longer demonstrates the assured belief it used to as the best in Germany.

“Not only does he have decades of experience in football management, but he also started playing football at FC Bayern and became a professional here,” Hainer said. “We are convinced that he will successfully form and shape the future of this club.”

Eberl, a former right back, made only one Bundesliga appearance for Bayern in October 1991, when he was substituted off at halftime in a 3-2 loss at Stuttgart.

He went to Bochum in January 1994, played for Greuther Fürth for 3½ seasons, then joined Borussia Mönchengladbach to start a 23-year association with the club.

After finishing his playing career, Eberl enjoyed success as the sporting director at Gladbach from 2008 until he quit abruptly in January 2022, citing burnout. He started at Leipzig in the same role eight months later but was fired last September for “his failure to commit to the club.”

At Leipzig, Eberl led a rebuild that saw established players like Josko Gvardiol and Dominik Szoboszlai depart for big sums, while young talents like Loïs Openda and Paris Saint-Germain loanee Xavi Simons arrived to star this season.

Eberl’s alleged lack of commitment to Leipzig likely had to do with the speculation linking him with Bayern, where his work in a managerial capacity at Gladbach had long been admired.

Eberl was already a target for Bayern before it appointed Hasan Salihamidzic as sporting director in 2017.

Salihamidzic was fired hours after Bayern clinched the league title last season, along with chief executive Oliver Kahn. Both men paid the price for the problems that Eberl will be expected to address.

Bayern won the Bundesliga last season only because Borussia Dortmund squandered their chance on the final day. The decision to axe Kahn and Salihamidzic was taken earlier, after a season in which the team’s decline had been plain to see.

Former chief financial officer Jan-Christian Dreesen took over as CEO and Bayern hired former Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund to take over from Salihamidzic, though he didn’t start officially until Sept. 1, and wasn’t involved in the summer transfer business.

Eberl and Freund will be expected to work together, with a priority being the hiring of a new coach following Bayern’s decision not to continue with Thomas Tuchel next season after the team lost three games in a row.

Tuchel said on Friday he wasn’t the “only problem” at Bayern and his employers were unable to contradict him over the weekend.

“If FC Bayern loses three times in a row, then we all have to question ourselves; the team, the coach, we in management, we do it as well, it’s not in question at all,” Hainer said Saturday. “But you will see, we will draw the right analysis and conclusions and do the right thing.”

Asked why Bayern had worked their way through three highly regarded German coaches in Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann and Hansi Flick since 2021, Hainer replied that the demands at Bayern were very high and there was constant pressure to do well.

“But I believe that at the end of the day, the formula for success at FC Bayern is that we are never satisfied with where we are, and then we continue to move forward,” Hainer said.

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso – a former Bayern player – is the favorite as Tuchel’s replacement, though former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and Stuttgart’s Sebastian Hoeneß have also been linked. The latter is the nephew of Bayern honorary president Uli Hoeneß and has led Stuttgart to third place in the Bundesliga after saving it from relegation last season.

Hainer placed the onus on the new coach for success by saying the Bayern squad is “not un-coachable.”

Eberl will be under pressure from the start.