Bright future for cricket in Japan, official tells Arab News

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Updated 10 February 2024

Bright future for cricket in Japan, official tells Arab News

Bright future for cricket in Japan, official tells Arab News
  • Alan Curr, head of operations at the Japanese Cricket Association, was speaking after Japan’s men’s team just missed out on qualifying for the ACC Premier Cup

LONDON/BANGKOK: Japan may not have much of a reputation on the international stage when it comes to cricket, but the man tasked with changing that told Arab News he is optimistic that the sport has a bright future in the country.

Alan Curr, head of operations at the Japanese Cricket Association, was speaking after Japan’s men’s team just missed out on qualifying for the ACC Premier Cup in Oman in April following defeat to Saudi Arabia in the semi-final on Friday.

He told Arab News that there was talent in Japan waiting to burst on the scene, and the JCA’s recent readmission to the Asian Cricket Council would help nurture the next generation of cricketers in the country.

“The game has moved on a lot in the 10 years that I’ve been in Japan, and even before then. Certainly, coming back into the ACC is giving us a lot more opportunities,” Curr said. “This is our first senior men’s competition for more than 20 years, our women play on Saturday in an ACC event, and our U-19s qualified for the Asia Cup last year. So, hopefully that junior program, and the success they’ve had, gives you a bit of an idea of the talent we have coming through and the strength of the team.”

While there are some cricket clubs in Japan, Curr said JCA programs have been vital in introducing the Japanese youth to a sport to which they might otherwise not be exposed.

“There are clubs doing some good work in Japan trying to recruit youngsters. But we, at the JCA, run a lot of our own programs,” he said. “We have a ‘Cricket Blast’ program, which is an under-12 competition that’s a mix of training and games — an introductory platform for people. And we’ve actually made some progress with getting cricket into the schools; we have it in the curriculum in a couple of small cities where we’ve worked closely with local governments, but once we get it into the national curriculum, that could be a real game-changer for us.”

Having cricket included as an Olympic sport will also have a huge impact on getting eyes on the sport in Japan and, crucially, the necessary funding for it to develop, according to Curr.

“The Olympic inclusion has been big news for us and has certainly put the game in front of more people already and, hopefully, will help with an increase in funding. And that will enable us to just do more things,” he said. “Even though we’re in the Games for Los Angeles in 2028, that’s still just a one-off Games at the moment. So, the next step is to get cricket as a permanent Olympic sport. But at least we get five years of opening up access to some funding.

“The hope is that Brisbane 2032 will keep cricket and then there are rumors swirling that the Olympics after that will be in India. So, if that happens, cricket would stay in too. You could suddenly be looking at 12 or 13 years of cricket as an Olympic sport, (which means) you get taken a bit more seriously by the mainstream in Japan.”

While Curr is grateful for outside support, particularly from authorities in established cricketing nations such as Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka, part of his remit at the JCA is to develop homegrown coaches, who can converse in Japanese.

“Our head coach, Dhugal Bedingfield, is Australian, but he’s been in Japan as long as I have; he’s done 10 years, and he speaks much better Japanese than I do. We make sure that we’re delivering in Japanese as much as possible to the boys and they speak Japanese in the field,” he said.

“It’s very much a work in progress, to try and develop more community coaches. We sent two to Vanuatu late last year to do the ICC Level Two coaching course and we want to be getting more coaches of that level in our programs.

“We still have relationships with people overseas. The Titans in South Africa have recently become partners, we’re working on an MoU with Sri Lanka Cricket, and Cricket Victoria in Australia have supported us for a long time and they often send coaches over. But for the game to really thrive, we need more community coaches of our own.”

Curr is particularly proud of the development of the women’s game in Japan. He said the JCA has focused on a “skills transfer” approach with girls and young women who have played softball, baseball or even tennis.

“We’re able to send a full-strength team out to (this weekend’s) tournament, which we weren’t able to do the last two times,” he said. “So we’re hopeful that we can get a few wins and start moving the women’s team’s ranking up. This will be the (Japanese) women’s first ACC event, and there are fewer teams playing, so it’ll be good to have a chance to see how we compete.”

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list
Updated 15 July 2024

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list
  • Opening round of games takes place from Aug. 22, with champions Al-Hilal starting title defence at Al-Okhdood
  • New ‘Magic Rounds’ will feature derbies across Riyadh, Jeddah and the Eastern Province in weeks 9 and 26

Riyadh: The Saudi Pro League’s competitions department has officially announced the fixtures for the upcoming 2024-25 Roshn Saudi League season, which is set to kick off from Aug. 22-24.

The opening weekend will see reigning champions Al-Hilal beginning their title defense away against Al-Okhdood.

This season will feature 306 matches, meticulously scheduled to accommodate international breaks, continental competitions, and Saudi Arabian Football Federation tournaments. Notably, no fixtures will be held during the last 10 days of Ramadan, ensuring respect for the holy month.

The league has also prioritized player welfare by ensuring a minimum two-day rest between matches.

One of the highlights of this season is the introduction of “Magic Rounds.” Scheduled for Matchweeks 9 and 26, these special weekends will host thrilling derbies across Riyadh, Jeddah, and the Eastern Province, showcasing rivalries such as Al-Ahli versus Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal against Al-Nassr.

The league’s fixture list is designed to ensure a balanced competition. Each team will play nine home matches and eight away matches in the first half, mirroring the same structure in the second half. Teams will avoid playing more than two consecutive matches at home or away, with a maximum of two such occurrences permitted per half of the season.

Clubs from the same city will be paired to guarantee that when one team is at home, the other is away, promoting exciting local derbies. Additionally, the season’s start and end are synchronized; a team playing at home in Matchweek 1 will play away in Matchweek 34, and vice versa. The final four rounds will feature each team playing two home and two away matches, ensuring an electrifying conclusion to the season.

The season opens with a series of compelling matchups.

Al-Shabab will host Al-Ettifaq, while 2023-24 runners-up Al-Nassr will face Al-Raed at home. Newly promoted Al-Orobah will travel to Jeddah to challenge Al-Ahli, and Al-Taawoun will welcome Al-Fayha. In Ar Rass, Al-Ittihad will take on newcomers Al-Kholood. The 2023-24 First Division League champions, Al-Qadsiah, will host Al-Fateh, and Damac will begin their campaign at home against Al-Khaleej, with Al-Riyadh traveling to Makkah to meet Al-Wehda.

The Roshn Saudi League fixtures list. photo credit: @SPL_EN

The SPL will announce match dates and kick-off times in a phased manner:
July 18: breakdown for Matchweeks 1 and 2.
Aug. 18: (Subject to AFC draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 3 to 8.
Sept. 30: (Subject to King’s Cup Round of 16 draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 9 to 13.
Oct. 31: (Subject to King’s Cup quarter-final draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 14 to 22.
Feb. 22: (Subject to AFC Round of 16 draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 23 to 34.

These announcements will depend on confirmation from the AFC and SAFF regarding their respective competition draw dates.

As the league prepares for another thrilling season, fans can look forward to a calendar packed with drama, excitement, and unforgettable moments in Saudi football.

USA’s Dream Team 2.0 ready to rock Abu Dhabi

USA’s Dream Team 2.0 ready to rock Abu Dhabi
Updated 15 July 2024

USA’s Dream Team 2.0 ready to rock Abu Dhabi

USA’s Dream Team 2.0 ready to rock Abu Dhabi
  • LeBron James, Stephen Curry and co. ramp up Olympics preparations with warmup games in UAE capital

ABU DHABI: Stephen Curry hesitates when asked to give a nickname for the USA Basketball squad headed to the Paris Olympics.

The Golden State Warriors point guard is part of a star-studded 12-man roster that includes the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum and Anthony Edwards.

No US team has had that much talent and star power since the fabled 1992 dream team that featured Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and which demolished all opposition to bring home gold at the Barcelona Olympics.

Spearheaded by Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Team USA are in Abu Dhabi this week as part of their preparations for the 2024 Olympics and will take on Australia on Monday and Serbia on Wednesday in exhibition games at Yas Island’s Etihad Arena.

With James and company warming up behind Curry ahead of a practice session at NYU Abu Dhabi on Sunday, the star stopped short of picking a label for the group that will be gunning for a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal in Paris.

“I got to do my homework. I don’t know if Magic, Michael and Larry, if they coined that themselves and walked around calling themselves the ‘Dream Team,’ or if that was the nickname that fans and the media gave them,” Curry told reporters in the UAE capital.

“I feel like we’re going to have the same vibe. We just want to be called a gold medal-winning team and whatever the nickname is that comes with it, we’ll take it. But we’ve got a great group, obviously, so I’m excited about what we’re capable of doing and hopefully we can get it done.”

A first Olympics for Steph

Curry has suited up for USA at previous World Cups, but never at the Olympics, and the 36-year-old is excited for his maiden experience at the games.

“Everything around the Olympics for me, I’m just a kid in the candy store, because I’ve never been able to experience it before,” he said.

The USA’s win over Canada in an exhibition game in Las Vegas last week was Curry’s first appearance on the national team in 10 years. He played for 19 minutes and had 12 points and three assists.

Managing star power

Head coach Steve Kerr assured the press that managing such a loaded roster “isn’t difficult at all” and while the team is still figuring out the best combinations on the court, he is confident that his players will deliver when it matters most.

Curry described what it is like being part of such a strong collective, saying: “It’s been an amazing experience so far. Like, the energy with this group, a lot of guys that have accomplished a lot of things in basketball in their careers and it just seems like we’re just having fun playing the game. And that’s the cool part about what we have in front of us.

“Because you put agendas aside … you put egos — you bring the healthy egos of who you are, but you put aside everything other than just winning. We talk about it every day. And hopefully we can show it when we actually start.”

Tatum, who helped guide the Boston Celtics to the NBA championship title last month, spoke about the challenge of having just three weeks to get acquainted with new teammates ahead of the Olympics.

“You got to get used to playing with 11 new guys. You got to find the balance of being unselfish but still being yourself and being the guy, the reason why they wanted you on this team, you got to be yourself,” said the 26-year-old forward.

“So, figuring out that balance of, you never want to step on anyone’s toes, still got to play the right way and be aggressive in your own way.”

Celtics trio add championship DNA to the team

There are three Celtics players on Team USA — Tatum, Jrue Holiday and Derrick White — and they are keen to add to what has already been a successful year for them.

Tatum and Holiday were part of the team that won gold in Tokyo 2020 but this time return to the squad as reigning NBA champions.

A star in his own right, Tatum is ready to take on whichever role he is assigned by Kerr, even if it means coming off the bench.

Kerr will be testing out different starting lineups during the warmup games in Abu Dhabi and London before the team fly to Lille for their Olympics opener against World Cup silver medalists Serbia on July 28.

“Honestly, every USA team I’ve played on, going back to junior basketball, I would always come off the bench. It’s not something to look down upon. There’s so many talented guys and you know I was the second lead scorer in Tokyo — the main objective is for us to win,” said Tatum.

“If I start, if I come off the bench, I know how to impact the game and how to win at the highest level.”

LeBron ‘excited’ to be back in the Middle East

After a brief visit to Dubai in 2022, and a stop in Riyadh last year where he held a clinic with young Saudi basketballers, James is back in the region, ready to play his first game in the Middle East against Australia on Monday.

“I’m excited to be here once again. I spent a little time in Saudi Arabia, I was in Dubai as well, and now being here in Abu Dhabi. I’m looking forward to playing in the game on Monday, playing the game on Wednesday, and seeing the reception that we get for Team USA. I’m super excited. It’s always a treat,” said James.

The 39-year-old Lakers forward is chasing a third Olympic gold medal this summer to go with the ones he won in 2008 and 2012.

As the oldest player on the roster, James believes it is important to take on a mentorship role in the team, together with his fellow veterans.

“Absolutely, it’s always a responsibility that you should hold with honor and being able to give back to the younger generation because they have to keep going when we’re done,” he said.

“So, it’s definitely a responsibility for myself, KD and Steph to be able to just show them the ropes.”

KD still sidelined

The player with the most Olympics experience on the squad is Durant, who helped lead USA to gold in the last three editions of the games.

The Phoenix Suns forward has yet to practice with Team USA, though, as he continues to nurse a calf strain. Kerr said that Durant will not be playing in Monday’s game against Australia but is not too concerned about the injury.

The coach said he has not lined up a possible replacement for Durant, and sounds confident that the 35-year-old will be good to go in France.

“(A back-up plan is) not something we’ve even discussed at this point. Because we feel good that he’s going to be okay, it’s just day to day,” said Kerr.

Diriyah Club ownership transferred to PIF-backed firm, boosting Saudi sports sector

Diriyah Club ownership transferred to PIF-backed firm, boosting Saudi sports sector
Updated 26 min 29 sec ago

Diriyah Club ownership transferred to PIF-backed firm, boosting Saudi sports sector

Diriyah Club ownership transferred to PIF-backed firm, boosting Saudi sports sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s sports sector is set for a major boost as ownership of Diriyah Sports Club transfers from the Ministry of Sport to Diriyah Co., a firm owned by the Public Investment Fund.     

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, serving as chairman of the PIF company’s board of directors, has also approved the formation of Diriyah Sports Club’s board, chaired by Prince Khalid bin Saud. Board members include Jerry Inzerillo, Mohammed Al-Khreiji, Ayman Al-Fallaj, and Hamad Al-Bati, according to a statement.  

The moves align with strategic goals to develop and enhance Diriyah as a premier cultural, tourist, entertainment, and sports destination. The initiative also aims to empower the private sector to play a more significant role in the sports field, in line with Saudi Vision 2030 goals. 

Jerry Inzerill, group CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority, said: “The decision by the Ministry of Sport to transfer ownership of the Diriyah Sports Club to Diriyah Gate Development Authority will enable the organization to invest in their development, both from a facilities and a talent perspective.”  

He added: “We will be looking at developing a ground-up approach, from enhanced infrastructure to world-class athletic and athlete services, bolstering and growing the player base to enable them to compete at levels that were previously unachievable.”  

Inzerillo further emphasized that this initiative will expand their audience and fan base, encouraging youth and casual players to aspire to higher levels of competition. These efforts align with Vision 2030's goals of promoting wellness, well-being, and inclusive sports participation across all age groups and skill levels. 

Moreover, this initiative is part of the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project, announced by the Crown Prince in June 2023. The project, rolled out in collaboration with the National Privatization Center, aims to accelerate the development of Saudi Arabia’s sports industry by encouraging business sector involvement with clubs.  

Shortly after the project announcement at that time, PIF stated its intention to acquire ownership of Saudi Arabia's four leading football clubs: Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr, and Al-Hilal. 

Founded in 1976, Diriyah Club is gearing up to compete in the Saudi Second Division League for the upcoming 2024/2025 sports season, having been assigned to Group 2 by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation. 

Thomas Mueller ends Germany career following Euro 2024

Thomas Mueller ends Germany career following Euro 2024
Updated 15 July 2024

Thomas Mueller ends Germany career following Euro 2024

Thomas Mueller ends Germany career following Euro 2024
  • Mueller, who turns 35 in September, was a key member of the German team that won the 2014 World Cup

BERLIN: Germany striker Thomas Mueller said Monday he was retiring from international football after a disappointing Euro 2024 in which the host nation were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
“After 131 national team games and 45 goals, I am saying goodbye,” Mueller said in a video statement announcing his decision.
Mueller, who turns 35 in September, was a key member of the German team that won the 2014 World Cup.
The charismatic forward also scored the opening goal in Germany’s unforgettable 7-1 win over the hosts Brazil in the semi final.
“When I played my first international match for the German national team over 14 years ago, I could never have dreamed of all this,” Mueller said in the video.
“It always made me very proud to play for my country. We celebrated together and sometimes shed a tear together,” he said.
A tearful Mueller had hinted at retirement following Germany’s exit from Euro 2024.
The tournament hosts lost 2-1 in the quarter-final to Spain, who went on to lift the trophy on Sunday against England.
After the Spain game, Mueller said he would hold talks with national team coach Julian Nagelsmann and decide whether it was the “sensible option” to step aside in favor of younger players.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is the only member of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning side still involved in the national team set up.
Germany and Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos announced before Euro 2024 that he would retire from football after the tournament.
Unlike Kroos, Mueller will continue to play for his club Bayern Munich, where he is under contract until 2025.
Only Lothar Matthaeus and Miroslav Klose have played more games for Germany than Mueller, who is also Germany’s sixth highest goalscorer of all time.

Sharjah Self-Defense dominates second round of Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Jiu-Jitsu Championship

Sharjah Self-Defense dominates second round of Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Jiu-Jitsu Championship
Updated 15 July 2024

Sharjah Self-Defense dominates second round of Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Jiu-Jitsu Championship

Sharjah Self-Defense dominates second round of Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Jiu-Jitsu Championship
  • Tournament featured No-Gi competitions at Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai on Sunday

DUBAI: Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club claimed the top spot in the second round of the Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Jiu-Jitsu Championship, which featured No-Gi competitions at Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai on Sunday.

Organized by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, the championship saw athletes from the UAE’s premier clubs and academies take to the mats in various categories, including Youth, Adults, and Masters.

At the end of Sunday’s competitions, Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club emerged victorious, while M.O.D UAE took second place, and Al-Ain Jiu-Jitsu Club secured third.

The championship follows a comprehensive ranking system that recognizes clubs and athletes based on performance and results across the five-round series. In the first round of Gi competitions held last month at Mubadala Arena in Abu Dhabi, Al-Ain Club topped the medal table, with Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club in second place and Baniyas Club in third.

Sheikh Suhail bin Butti Suhail Al-Maktoum, executive director of the sports development sector at the General Authority of Sports, expressed his pride in the organization and level of competition at the championship. He also extended his gratitude and appreciation to the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, or UAEJJF, for their efforts in making the championship a success and recognized its efforts in solidifying the UAE’s global leadership in jiu-jitsu.

“The championship reflects the significant progress of jiu-jitsu in the UAE, as these championships contribute to elevating the sport’s status at both local and international levels,” he said. “This pioneering event exemplifies our commitment at the General Authority of Sports to support and host initiatives that raise awareness and encourage younger generations to engage in sports, develop their skills, and compete at the highest levels.”

Meanwhile, Mohamed Salem Al-Dhaheri, vice chairman of the UAEJJF, praised the success of the second round of the championship, highlighting that this achievement was a direct result of support from the UAE’s leadership. Al-Dhaheri said that the leadership’s support has been the cornerstone of the significant strides the country had made in the realm of sports, particularly jiu-jitsu, enabling the athletes to excel on various platforms.

“The athletes performed exceptionally in today’s No-Gi competitions across various categories, improving the overall quality of the championship,” he said. “This highlights the importance of the championship for clubs and academies, as a large number of athletes participated, aiming to increase their chances of winning the title at the end of the season. The championship’s ranking system encourages clubs to invest in talent, participating with the maximum number of athletes throughout all rounds of the championship. Additionally, including the under-12 category in No-Gi competitions for the first time adds value to the event, showing our commitment to nurturing young athletes and giving them important competitive experiences.”

Fawzia Mohammed Faridoon, acting director of the sports events department at the Dubai Sports Council, said that she was delighted “to be part of the Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Jiu-Jitsu Championship, setting new creative standards of excellence and innovation in local Jiu-Jitsu championships.”

Naser Albreiki, who clinched the gold medal in the Masters/94 kg category for M.O.D UAE, said: “I’m proud of this achievement today after tough matches with other champions. The competitions required special skills, strength and technique, with less emphasis on ground fighting. I’m thankful to my coaches and teammates, whose support was essential for my success. It’s an honor to be part of a championship that helps keep the UAE at the forefront of global jiu-jitsu.”