Al-Shabab Club adds field hockey to its portfolio of sports

Al-Shabab Club adds field hockey to its portfolio of sports
Ahmed Al-Jaidan, vice president of the Saudi Hockey Federation, left, presents a plaque to Al-Shabab, represented by Kholaif Al-Hweshan, the club’s chairman. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 February 2024
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Al-Shabab Club adds field hockey to its portfolio of sports

Al-Shabab Club adds field hockey to its portfolio of sports
  • Al-Shabab is the first Saudi sports club to include hockey in its stable of sports
  • Alliance aims to enhance the level of performance in the Olympic sport and make hockey a vital and sustainable sport in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The Saudi Hockey Federation has signed an agreement with the management of Al-Shabab to add field hockey to its portfolio of sports.

The federation will provide the tools and technical equipment for setting up the club.

Al-Shabab is the first Saudi sports club to include hockey in its stable of sports.

Ahmed Al-Jaidan, vice president of the Saudi Hockey Federation, presented a plaque to Al-Shabab, represented by Kholaif Al-Hweshan, the club’s chairman. 

Al-Jaidan said that this step is a significant boost to the Saudi sports environment.

The alliance aims to enhance the level of performance in the Olympic sport and make hockey a vital and sustainable sport in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Jaidan emphasized the federation’s commitment to supporting and developing field hockey and encouraging young people to actively participate in sports activities.


Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia

Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
Updated 11 sec ago
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Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia

Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
  • SACF has lined up several programs to promote the sport in KSA
  • Pakistani greats Wasin Akram and Shoaib Akhter have been in Riyadh and met the SACF chief

RIYADH: Cricket is a game that has an almost magical ability to unite South Asian expatriates in their second home Saudi Arabia.

On every weekend and whenever there is a time to play, mostly on public holidays, they gather at some grounds, parks and open spaces to play street cricket.

For decades, early-morning gatherings were the only way for the South Asian diaspora to play cricket.

Expatriates from India, Pakistan, Sri Lankan and Bangladesh had few entertainment options other than cricket in the Kingdom before social reforms in line with Saudi Vision 2030 were unveiled in 2016, so would play friendly matches.

For decades, cricket in Saudi Arabia was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country, with the game’s ruling body in the Kingdom introducing a series of competitions and programs to encourage the nation’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation, established in 2020, has lined up a series of major programs to promote the game among Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom.

With Prince Saud bin Mishal Al-Saud as chairman of the federation, long-term plans have been put in place to ensure that Saudi Arabian national teams can compete with the world’s best in the future.

Arab News, in an exclusive interview, spoke to the diaspora from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who shared their memories and experiences of playing cricket in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed Azimooddin Abdul Rahiman Karajagi, who is an ICC-certified curator and umpire, and head coach of the Riyadh Cricket Association, told Arab News: “I have seen cricket being played in this region for almost 25 years now. In the beginning there was very limited opportunity to play the game by expatriate communities from the South Asian countries, they would gather at some open space for a friendly match. Then club cricket started and now the SACF headed by Prince Saud is doing a lot for the development of cricket in the Kingdom, starting with the National Cricket Championship, the biggest ever cricket tournament in the history of Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “As result of the mega-competition a formidable Saudi national cricket team was formed and they went on to lift ACC Men’s Challenger Cup consecutively, last year and this year, taking the game to another level (and) now will play the Premier Cup to qualify for the Asia Cup.

“We, the cricket lovers in the Kingdom, congratulate the SACF for taking initiatives to develop the game; we are delighted to see that world-class cricketers are emerging from the Kingdom, and wish all the best to the Saudi team qualify not only to the Asia cup but also to the Cricket World Cup,” he said.

Arab News caught Syed Salman Hussain from Pakistan, who was busy in net practice at Mark Cricket Academy, which is affiliated to the RCA at its home ground in Al-Sulai Industrial Area, Al-Mashael District in Riyadh.

Hussain enjoys playing cricket whenever he has time off work, and hopes to play one day in the Saudi national cricket team.

On playing cricket in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, he said it is tougher here as the cricket kit is not fully available, and must be brought from his homeland. Moreover, to play on the grassless pitches in Riyadh is tough.

“Here the ground is full of stones and sand, as against green grassy playground in Bangladesh,” said Nojmul Hasan from Dhaka, blaming the sandy area beside a shopping mall’s parking lot for his team’s slow run buildup in a friendly match.

“There are no carefully manicured grass pitches for cricketers in this city carved out of the desert. In Riyadh, there is hardly any grass. But the good thing is, after the formation of the SACF, things are changing, we have heard that there is work in progress for turf wicket here, so that’s great news.”

Obaidullah Zaman from Afghanistan, who is working in Riyadh for several years and plays cricket with the Mark Cricket Academy in Al-Mashael District every Friday, is happy with the pace of change, saying: “We are really excited to see the development around cricket in Saudi Arabia with the federation planning to have professional cricket academies, more grounds, better facilities with entertainment and other services around them to attract Saudi as well as the diaspora to the game. I look forward to finding a place in the national team either here or in my Afghan team, so I come religiously to practice at my academy and be prepared to play the matches organized by the RCA.”

Mohamed Sauky, a Sri Lankan expat playing cricket in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We are very passionate about cricket. My favorite cricketer is Angelo Mathews from Sri Lanka. One day I aspire to be like him and represent the national team, therefore, I participate in all the training sessions by the RCA and as a result I am the highest wicket taker so far this season. With the coaching facilities, practice sessions on the net and practice matches, we are enhancing our skill. Playing together, we the South Asian diaspora enjoy our diversity and share our experiences to help each other in enhancing the skill to become a better player.”

Kannan K. Gopi, an Indian who has lived here for decades and plays cricket, was selected in the Saudi national cricket team to play the 40 overs tournament, but could not join because of the age factor. He still joins the players in the practice sessions and also coaches new players aspiring to be professional cricketers making it to the national team.

Sharing old memories, Gopi said: “Earlier, expats formed some clubs to play the game, now things are progressing well. We are looking forward to our favorite sport taking a big leap in the Kingdom, with the SACF keen to introduce a series of programs and domestic leagues.”

Speaking to Arab News last year regarding the plans, Prince Saud said: “Saudi Arabia is the biggest country in the region with the biggest number of teams and players. So there will be leagues on all levels. We have developed throughout our time in the federation great relationships with the International Cricket Council, the global governing body of cricket, and the Asian Cricket Council, the organization that promotes and develops the sport of cricket in Asia, as well as some successful international cricket boards and big cricketers globally.”

High-profile figures from the world of cricket have offered their expertise and backing for cricket in the Kingdom.

Pakistani greats Wasin Akram and Shoaib Akhter, Indian pacer Irfan Pathan, and British cricketer Kevin Pietersen have been in Riyadh and met the SACF chief to discuss cricket and share expertise on how to develop the game.


Ex-Brazil star Dani Alves sentenced to 4.5 years in jail for rape

Ex-Brazil star Dani Alves sentenced to 4.5 years in jail for rape
Updated 5 min 2 sec ago
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Ex-Brazil star Dani Alves sentenced to 4.5 years in jail for rape

Ex-Brazil star Dani Alves sentenced to 4.5 years in jail for rape
  • It also ordered the three-time Champions League winner to five years’ probation after he serves his jail term
  • “The victim did not consent and there is evidence that, beyond the complainant’s testimony, permits the rape to be considered proven,” the Barcelona court wrote in a statement

BARCELONA: A Spanish court on Thursday sentenced former Brazil international Dani Alves to four and a half years in prison after finding him guilty of raping a young woman at a Barcelona nightclub in December 2022.
It also ordered the three-time Champions League winner to five years’ probation after he serves his jail term, and demanded he pay 150,000 euros ($162,000) in compensation to the victim.
“The victim did not consent and there is evidence that, beyond the complainant’s testimony, permits the rape to be considered proven,” the Barcelona court wrote in a statement.
“The court considers as proven the fact that the defendant abruptly grabbed the complainant, threw her to the ground and penetrated her vaginally, preventing her from moving, while the complainant said no and wanted to leave.”
Prosecutors had called for a nine-year jail sentence for the 40-year-old followed by 10 years of probation.
Alves, who maintains the sex with the woman was consensual, will appeal the ruling, his lawyer told reporters outside the court.
One of the world’s most decorated footballers who played for Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain during a storied career, Alves went on trial earlier this month on charges of raping a woman at the Sutton nightclub in the early hours of December 31, 2022.
His accuser — who testified behind a screen to protect her identity — said Alves had violently forced her to have sex in a private bathroom of the nightclub despite her begging him to let her go, causing her “anguish and terror,” according to prosecutors.
Police officers who attended the woman told the court about the victim’s state of agitation and “shock” when they arrived at the nightclub, as well as her anxiety that “nobody would believe her” if she filed a complaint.
During the trial, his defense focused on trying to show that Alves was drunk when he met the woman.
Alves, who was present in court throughout his three-day trial, testified that his sexual encounter with the woman was consensual and denied hitting her and grabbing her hair.
“I am not that type of man, I am not violent,” he told the court after his defense lawyer asked if he had forced her to have sex.
“If she wanted to leave, she could have left, she was not obligated to be there,” he added.
But the court ruled that the injuries found on the victim’s knees were “the result of the violence used by Mr. Alves,” and said her testimony had been “consistent” throughout the proceedings.
Spain’s leftist government in 2022 passed new legislation — dubbed the “only yes means yes” law — that strengthens the country’s penal code against rape by requiring explicit consent for sex acts, a move long demanded by assault survivors and women’s rights groups.
The player’s defense had argued that the young woman had danced “glued” to him at the nightclub, and there was “sexual tension” between the two.
But the court ruled that “these attitudes... do not mean giving ‘carte blanche’ to... a subsequent aggression.”
Alves initially denied knowing the woman in a TV interview but later acknowledged having sex with her, saying it was consensual.
He told La Vanguardia newspaper in June that he had lied because he was afraid his wife would leave him.
The player has been in detention since he was arrested in Barcelona in January 2023. His requests to be released on bail have been repeatedly denied by the courts which considered him a flight risk.
Brazil does not extradite its own citizens when they are sentenced in other countries.
Alves is widely considered one of the greatest defenders of all time, winning 42 trophies during a highly successful career.
The peak of his career was with Barcelona between 2008 and 2016 when he won 23 trophies. At the time of his arrest, he was contracted to Mexican club Pumas UNAM. He was sacked soon after being detained.


’Not the right moment’ to discuss future, says Alonso

’Not the right moment’ to discuss future, says Alonso
Updated 13 min 46 sec ago
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’Not the right moment’ to discuss future, says Alonso

’Not the right moment’ to discuss future, says Alonso
  • Asked if he would be in the dugout at Leverkusen next season, Alonso replied “right now, yes”
  • “Right now I’m the coach here, that’s for sure. For the future I have nothing new to say, we’ll see”

BERLIN: Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso said Thursday it was “not the right moment for me to talk about” his future, with the in-demand coach linked to Bayern Munich and Liverpool.
Alonso’s Leverkusen sit eight points clear atop the Bundesliga table and are unbeaten in all competitions this season, his first full year at the club.
Asked if he would be in the dugout at Leverkusen next season, Alonso replied “right now, yes.”
The 42-year-old manager has been linked to upcoming vacancies at two of his former clubs, after Bayern’s announcement on Wednesday that Thomas Tuchel would leave season’s end, along with Jurgen Klopp’s decision to step down in summer from Liverpool.
The Leverkusen boss opened Thursday’s press conference with a statement directed at journalists, saying “maybe you have a question or two about my future. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing new to say.”
“Right now I’m the coach here, that’s for sure. For the future I have nothing new to say, we’ll see.”
The coach, who took over Leverkusen in October 2022 with the club hovering near the relegation spots, said rumors of his departure in summer were “only hypothetical.”
Eight points ahead of second-placed Bayern with 12 games remaining, Alonso has Leverkusen on track for a first German top-flight title.
The coach, who won titles in Spain, Germany and England as a player, told reporters he and the squad were not feeling under pressure.
“I don’t feel it. We are very focused, that (pressure) is no problem.”
On Friday, Leverkusen host second-last Mainz and can go 11 points clear with a win. Bayern host RB Leipzig on Saturday.


Rising attendances, TV viewership reflect popularity of franchise cricket

Rising attendances, TV viewership reflect popularity of franchise cricket
Updated 22 February 2024
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Rising attendances, TV viewership reflect popularity of franchise cricket

Rising attendances, TV viewership reflect popularity of franchise cricket
  • India’s IPL unquestionably world’s most watched brand, DP World ILT20 claiming 2nd

In the helter-skelter world of international franchise cricket, now is peak time.

Betway SA20’s (South Africa’s Twenty20 cricket league) final was played in front of a full house at Newlands, Cape Town, on Feb. 10.

A week later, the final of DP World ILT20 2024 attracted a packed house to the 25,000 capacity Dubai International Stadium. And on the same day, the first match in the Pakistan Super League took place in Lahore. The final of the Bangladesh Premier League is scheduled for March 1.

A start date and schedule for the Tata Indian Premier League is awaited, as these are dependent on the yet-to-be-announced schedule of the national elections, which are to be held in April.

The most touted start date is March 23, with match locations and dates rolled out in phases once the polling schedule becomes clear. A date for the final is rumored to be May 26, which is barely a week before the International Cricket Council T20I World Cup commences.

While the IPL is unquestionably the most watched cricket franchise league on and off screen, the DP World ILT20 lays fair claim to be the second.

According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council India, the 2023 edition of the IPL registered 505 million television viewers, its biggest ever level. Hindi-speaking markets contributed two-thirds of the audience, an increase of almost half compared with 2022. Some of the increased interest was generated by children, whose propensity to view rose by an astonishing 64 percent.

The DP World ILT20 operates within a four-week window compared with eight weeks for the IPL. Match attendances were up by 300 percent in 2024.

BARC figures revealed that the first 18 matches of ILT20 2024 attracted 161 million views, with 46 percent of the audience women and 56 percent aged under 30. A 12 percent increase was achieved among urban audiences in India compared with the previous year.

In 2023, 255 million fans were reached in India and 367 million worldwide unique viewers via TV and digital channels.

Clearly, ILT20’s appeal is growing, India representing the most significant market. Final audience figures are awaited with anticipation.

The audience profile for SA20 displays different characteristics. Nielsen Sports SA reported a 36 percent rise in viewership within South Africa across the first 19 days of the 2024 edition, compared with the inaugural tournament in 2023. Remarkably, almost two-thirds of the audience was reported to be over the age of 50.

League officials are also looking to tap into the Indian market, given that all six franchises are Indian owned. In 2023, 131 million people were reached there, more than 100 million less than achieved by ILT20. Again, final figures are awaited for SA20 2024 before an assessment of relative appeal can be made.

Any comparison needs to account for the Pakistan Super League, which is also building its brand.

A claim by a former chair of the Pakistan Cricket Board that the 2023 PSL had outperformed the IPL in terms of digital ratings – 150 million viewers on digital platforms compared with 130 million – were not helpful and widely derided.

Nevertheless, the size of Pakistan’s population and the popularity of cricket in the country combine to ensure that viewing figures will compete at the top end of franchise leagues.

Audience figures are not the only criterion to judge the attraction of franchise leagues. Prize money, salary levels, broadcasting revenues, sponsorship, standard of play, strength of competition, and quality of facilities must all feature in any assessment.

The development of local talent is another factor being addressed differently by the franchises. In the case of ILT20 it is an imperative. Each franchise must have at least four UAE players, of whom two must feature in the playing 11.

In 2024, the standout UAE performer was Pakistan-born Muhammad Waseem. He scored 321 runs opening the batting for the MI Emirates, the fourth-highest aggregate in the league. It included 43 in the final that set the MI Emirates on their way to victory. The performance enhanced his credentials which had received a boost in 2023, when he was also the UAE’s leading player in ILT20 2023. In March last year, he was appointed the UAE’s captain.

A further boost was in prospect as, during ILT20 2024, Islamabad United signed him for the PSL. However, because of his involvement in ILT20’s knockout stage, it left only a short gap between the final and the UAE’s Cricket World Cup League 2 matches against Canada and Scotland in Dubai between Feb. 28 and March 9.

This year, the most successful of the players who have grown up in the UAE were 20-year-old Zuhaib Zubair, who claimed 11 wickets for the Gulf Giants, and 21-year-old Alishan Sharafu, who scored 220 runs, including an undefeated 82. At 18 years old, Aayan Afzal Khan already seems like a veteran, having captained the UAE under-19 men’s team, and debuted for the senior side aged 17. This year he claimed six wickets for the Gulf Giants.

In an amendment to the tournament conditions for 2024, franchises were allowed to include players who are serving residential qualifications to be eligible for the UAE.

Haider Ali made an impression, taking seven wickets for the Dubai Capitals, as did the unknown left-arm fast bowler, Mohammed Rohid, with nine wickets. Some of the other locals did not get the chance to play much but will have received a cricket education from the established international players.

More anomalous was the low number of appearances afforded to some overseas players. One example is 22-year-old Englishman, Will Smeed, who played only two matches for the champions, MI Emirates. His career, so far, is an unusual one. After impressing observers as a teenager in white ball cricket, he decided in November 2022 to focus on that format. Effectively he retired from red ball cricket without playing a first-class match.

He is a fully signed-up member of the franchise helter-skelter but surely game time is needed to stay on it to showcase such talent.


Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships
Iga Swiatek is through to the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after beating Elina Svitolina. (WTA)
Updated 22 February 2024
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Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek beats Svitolina to book quarterfinal spot at Dubai Tennis Championships
  • World No.1 joins Gauff, Zheng, Vondrousova, Rybakina, Paolini, Cirstea, and Kalinskaya in final eight — with none having won before in Dubai
  • Australian Open finalist Zheng defeated Potapova in straight sets in final match of the night to set up clash with Swiatek

DUBAI: World No.1 Iga Swiatek saw off No.15 seed and two-time former champion Elina Svitolina in the third round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday night, and in doing so guaranteed a new name will appear on the trophy at this year’s WTA 1000 tournament.

Taking her winning streak in the Middle East this month to six successive matches, Swiatek beat her Ukrainian opponent in straight sets 6-1, 6-4 to progress to the quarterfinals, where she now faces Zheng.

While Svitolina secured back-to-back titles here in 2017 and 2018, Swiatek, Zheng and the other six players remaining in the tournament — Coco Gauff, Sorana Cirstea, Marketa Vondrousova, Elena Rybakina, Jasmine Paolini, and Anna Kalinskaya — are all gunning for a maiden title.

Under the center court lights on Wednesday, last week’s Doha champion Swiatek won seven consecutive games from 1-1 in the first set to race into a one-set lead in a little under 30 minutes. The two players had met only twice previously, most recently at last year’s quarterfinals stage of Wimbledon. On that occasion, it was Svitolina who came out on top, but it never looked likely in Dubai, even if the three-time Grand Slam semifinalist showed added fight in a more balanced second set that featured five service breaks.

“I felt like she played better in the second set,” said Swiatek, who credited her own decision-making and placement as the key reasons for her victory. “It wasn’t that easy to just finish points and win points; I wanted to stay focused and proactive, and kind of make decisions, but not too risky. We were both good in the longer rallies, so I needed to really push in the right time to make pressure.”

Swiatek has now won 25 of her past 26 matches and is on a 13-match winning streak against top 20 players. Arriving fresh from completing a trio of titles in Qatar, she was asked whether the fact she has never won in the Emirates changes her approach or even provides added motivation to continue that winning streak and lift the title.

“For sure, when you’re going into the tournament and you have won it before, you feel more comfortable — you feel like you’re home,” she said. “On the other hand, it can give you more pressure. At the beginning of Doha I felt being double defending champion was pretty stressful, but when you start a tournament and you haven’t won it, you don’t really think about winning — you just think about the first match that you’re going to play and that’s all.”

That being the case, having advanced to the last eight in Dubai for the second year in a row, Swiatek’s thoughts can now turn to Australian Open finalist Zheng and their match on Thursday. The pair have faced each other five times, with Swiatek holding a flawless record against the Chinese right-hander. Yet Zheng’s progress to the final in Melbourne suggests a scintillating contest may await.

“She’s progressing, but I felt like I could still play good tennis against her,” said Swiatek about their last meeting, at the United Cup in Perth in January. “I don’t know about the Australian Open because I didn’t see any of her matches. When I lost, I just completely cut off any tennis from my life, so it’s hard for me to say. She’s at this moment in her career — everybody is when they’re 21, 22, 23 — when they’re improving a lot, so it’s normal.”

World No.7 Zheng booked her place in the last eight by defeating Anastasia Potapova in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. Zheng has now won 26 of her last 27 matches against players outside the top 20 with the sole loss in that time coming last week to Leylah Fernandez. 

“I think my opponent played well today on the court, and I just played my tennis and everything went well for me,” said the No.6 seed. “Today I played the right way. When I had to attack, I attacked; when I had to defend, I defended. I’m really happy to be in the quarters for the first time in Dubai.”

A two-time winner on tour, Zheng’s tie with Swiatek represents her third WTA 1000 quarterfinal. On the prospect of trying to get a first win over the four-time Grand Slam winner, she said: “(Iga’s) a very solid player, and always there in the match. If I’m going to beat her, I have to make it a game. She’s always tough to beat and you always have to be alert when you play against her.”