Saudi rider Abrar Alabdulqader secures 2024 Endurance World Championship qualification

Saudi rider Abrar Alabdulqader secures 2024 Endurance World Championship qualification
Saudi rider Abrar Alabdulqader. (X/ Najeeb Al-Nasser)
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Updated 13 February 2024
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Saudi rider Abrar Alabdulqader secures 2024 Endurance World Championship qualification

Saudi rider Abrar Alabdulqader secures 2024 Endurance World Championship qualification
  • Team Barjas rider completed Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup in AlUla at weekend

ALULA: Saudi rider Abrar Alabdulqader of Team Barjas has secured qualification for the 2024 International Federation for Equestrian Sports Endurance World Championship taking place in France in September, Arriyadiyah reported.

Abdulqader snatched the qualifying spot after completing the 160 km race at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup in AlUla over the weekend in an elite field of more than 60 female riders.

Najib Al-Nasser, owner of Barjas Stables, said: “I dedicate this great achievement to Saudi equestrianism and to Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz for his great support of equestrian sports in Saudi Arabia.”


Saudi female tennis players challenge stereotypes as sporting dreams become reality

Saudi female tennis players challenge stereotypes as sporting dreams become reality
Updated 42 sec ago
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Saudi female tennis players challenge stereotypes as sporting dreams become reality

Saudi female tennis players challenge stereotypes as sporting dreams become reality
  • The response from Saudi Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar was swift, describing their views as “outdated” and “Western-centric”
  • Talented players of different age groups are being cultivated

RIYADH: When former tennis stars Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert decided to question the Women’s Tennis Association’s ties with Saudi Arabia, they failed to take into account how far tennis, and women’s sports in general, have come in recent years, and the level of empowerment that female athletes have been afforded in that time.
The response from Saudi Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar was swift, describing their views as “outdated” and “Western-centric.”
Tunisian star Ons Jabeur, a strong supporter of Arab and Saudi tennis, said critics should be “more informed.”
Indeed, anyone keeping an eye on the development of Saudi tennis in recent years will know how different the reality is to those negative stereotypes.
Talented players of different age groups are being cultivated.
Eighteen-year-old Lara Wjdey Bukary, an emerging star from Jeddah, discovered her passion for tennis seven years ago through her two older brothers, before her father began training with her.
Today, Bukary boasts some impressive achievements. She represented Saudi Arabia in the Kingdom’s first-ever participation in the Billie Jean King Cup in 2023, took home a silver medal during the 2022 Saudi Games, and followed that up with a bronze last year.
“I was the only Saudi on the podium, so that was pretty exciting,” Bukary told Arab News.
“I just want to be able to represent my country and, hopefully, get some titles, international tournaments, and grow as a tennis player.”
Among tennis circles in Saudi Arabia, 8-year-old Sama Al-Bakr is a name on many people’s lips, her undoubted potential symbolizing just what the future of Saudi women’s tennis could offer.
“She’s the only one in the Al-Bakr family that plays this sport,” her father, Ali Al-Bakr, told Arab News.
Hailing from Alkhobar in the Eastern Province, Sama has already rubbed shoulders with tennis greats such as Novak Djokovic when he visited during the Riyadh Season in late 2023.
She described being “happy, surprised, excited” when offered the opportunity to play with him and “beat him with the backhand.”
In September, Sama came first in a regional aged 7-10 mixed boys and girl’s tennis tournament.
After she was invited to participate, her father was told she would be playing among boys, in case he had any objections. Her father said that, on the contrary, his only thoughts were “I’m happy for the challenge and I feel sorry for these boys.”
The goal for Sama “is definitely going to be an international level,” Al-Bakr said.
He added that the “sky is the limit in the future,” and his daughter has the potential to become “the first Saudi girl who will play in Wimbledon as she promised.”
In Riyadh, 24-year-old Maha Kabbani has been playing tennis since seeing a Rafael Nadal match on television at the age of 9.
Like Bukary and young Sama, family support played a crucial role in her love for tennis.
Kabbani’s role model is her brother, who from a young age nurtured her passion for tennis and encouraged her to pursue a career in the sport.
“We used to train, me and my brother, at home and we started hitting the walls and then we got a tennis net,” she told Arab News.
“My family is the biggest supporter. They saw my passion, they saw the light inside me. Tennis has put such a light inside me that it made me shine,” Kabbani added.
From practicing with her brother in a make-do tennis court built in their small garden to training at Tennis Home Academy in Riyadh, Kabbani’s tennis journey highlights the transformative role played by Saudi Arabia’s post-2016 social reforms.
“I remember being 9 years old and trying to find a court. We could barely have one court, let alone academies. So, that’s huge progress,” she told Arab News.
“Right now, we are living our dreams and meeting the people that inspired us when we were younger.”
Kabbani said that past obstacles are now firmly behind them, and this is the “perfect time” for women and girls in the country to get involved in tennis.
“This is the perfect motivation,” she said.
The Saudi Tennis Federation is currently headed by a woman, Arij Almutabagani.
“We deserve to live our dreams, and see this progress and we deserve to enjoy our passion,” Kabbani said.


Kroos announces Germany return ahead of Euro 2024

Kroos announces Germany return ahead of Euro 2024
Updated 49 min 37 sec ago
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Kroos announces Germany return ahead of Euro 2024

Kroos announces Germany return ahead of Euro 2024
  • “Hey folks, short and sweet, I’ll be playing for Germany again from March,” Kroos said

BERLIN: World Cup winner Toni Kroos announced his return to the German national team on Thursday ahead of Euro 2024 on home soil.
Kroos, 34, will be eligible for selection in the upcoming March international friendlies against France and the Netherlands.
“Hey folks, short and sweet, I’ll be playing for Germany again from March,” Kroos said in an Instagram post.
“Why? Because I was asked by the coach and I’m up for it.
“I’m sure that much more is possible with the team at the European Championship than most people think right now.”
The Real Madrid midfielder, who has 106 caps for Germany, stepped down from international duty after the Euro 2020 last-16 elimination at the hands of eventual finalists England.


Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia

Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
Updated 22 February 2024
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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 22 February 2024
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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 22 February 2024
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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.