‘The sword has a history among the Arabs’: Inside Saudi Arabia’s fencing scene

‘The sword has a history among the Arabs’: Inside Saudi Arabia’s fencing scene
The Saudi Arabian Fencing Federation since 2018 that the sport has attracted so many young female and male athletes in recent times. (Arab News)
Short Url
Updated 01 April 2024
Follow

‘The sword has a history among the Arabs’: Inside Saudi Arabia’s fencing scene

‘The sword has a history among the Arabs’: Inside Saudi Arabia’s fencing scene
  • The Saudi Arabian Fencing Federation boasts 3,000 female and male fencers, 1,300 of whom are officially registered with a club
  • Saudi Arabia will host the Junior and Cadet World Fencing World Championship in Riyadh from April 12-20

RIYADH: In the heart of Saudi Arabia, sports halls bustle in the evenings with fencers as young as 8 years old, as swordsmanship spreads rapidly across the Kingdom.

It is a testament to the work carried out by the Saudi Arabian Fencing Federation since 2018 that the sport has attracted so many young female and male athletes in recent times.

As its popularity continues to rise, Saudi Arabia is set to host the Junior and Cadet World Fencing World Championship in Riyadh from April 12-20.

Alhasna Al-Hammad, 20, is on the Saudi fencing national team and trains six times a week with her saber sword, balancing her dedication to the sport with the industrial engineering degree she is pursuing at Al-Faisal University.

In 2019, Al-Hammad became the first Saudi female fencer in the country’s history to win a gold medal, achieving the feat at the 6th GCC Women’s Games in Kuwait City. 

Since then, she has participated in a number of world championships and added a bronze medal to her cabinet most recently from the 2023 Arab Games.




Alhasna Al-Hammad (Arab News)

“One thing that actually inspires me is contributing to raise my country’s name in international forums and making my family proud,” she told Arab News.

It was Al-Hammad’s mother who encouraged her to take up the sport in 2018 after finding out about the launch of the Saudi Arabian Fencing Federation’s academy for women.

“My No.1 supporter is my mother. She’s always with me in championships, and everywhere,” Al-Hammad said.

Despite her success, Al-Hammad still hears remarks that “fencing is not for women” and is often asked why she has chosen this sport.

She said: “I think it’s quite the opposite and it suits women very good.”

Leen Al-Fouzan, an 18-year-old fencer on the Saudi national team, likewise discovered fencing when the women’s program was announced. 

“I thought I'd give it a try and I ended up really liking it,” she told Arab News.

Last year, Al-Fouzan came first in the 2023 Saudi Games.




Leen Al-Fouzan (Arab News)

“What made fencing different was the focused and driven community. It was my first time ever joining an academy where people were training for a certain goal. It's either to become Arab champion or, like, participate in the World Cups and the European circuit,” she said.

Al-Fouzan was the first person in her family to take up sports and it quickly had a ripple effect on her cousins, friends, and siblings exploring numerous sporting vocations thereafter.

Her 11-year-old sister, Lama, inspired by her ongoing success, has been training for almost a year with the saber sword.

The history of Saudi fencing dates to the 1960s, during the rule of King Faisal, but there had been no female participation until recent years, following Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s social reforms.

“The first participation or practice of fencing was in the Saba Qusour schools in Jeddah in 1963. In the era of King Saud in 1972, the Saudi federation was established,” Ahmed Al-Sabban, President of the Saudi Arabian Fencing Federation, told Arab News.




Ahmed Al-Sabban, President of the Saudi Arabian Fencing Federation (Arab News)

Al-Sabban described April 2018 as a historic date: The federation launched their women’s initiative, and for the first time in Saudi history, women and girls would pick up the sport.

He said: “No female fencers ever participated in the past. We had seven clubs back then. Today, we have 55 clubs with 250 (female) players.”

Malak Al-Sultan became Saudi Arabia’s first female fencing referee when she took charge of a bout at the Kingdom Fencing Championships in Dammam in December 2020.  

Al-Sabban himself is a Saudi fencing veteran who inherited a passion for the sport from his father as a child and passed it down to his 22-year-old daughter Yasmin who today competes professionally.

Fencing has witnessed rapid growth in the Kingdom since 2017. Today, the federation boasts 3,000 female and male fencers, 1,300 of whom are officially registered with a club.

To preserve the historic sport among different generations, the federation has begun hosting tournaments twice a year, specifically for seniors and seasoned veterans.

Al-Sabban describes being “blessed” with dedicated team members, coaches, players, and the overarching support of the Olympic Committee and Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki for getting the Saudi fencing scene to where it is today.

Since the sword is a national emblem of Saudi Arabia, there is a natural affinity for fencing that the federation can tap into among the population.

“The sword has a history among the Arabs,” Al-Sabban said.

Ibrahim Nasser Al-Hodaib, a 19-year-old fencer on the Saudi national team, recalls that “10 years ago, nobody was interested in the game the way they (are) today. The sport was not common and only those who practiced fencing knew it existed.”

He said: “(As) with any athlete, our ultimate aspiration is to secure an Olympic medal for our country.”

With the Olympic Games in Paris close by, Al-Sabban shared the federation’s prospects. 




Ibrahim Nasser Al-Hodaib (Arab News)

“The last official qualification was that of Lubna Al-Omair who participated in the Rio Olympics. However, I want a player to be qualified in the playoffs since the championship will take place in April,” he said.” We have players who will participate using two types of fencing blades, epee and saber. I expect to have at least one qualified player.”

All eyes now turn to the Junior and Cadet World Fencing World Championship in Riyadh starting in less than two weeks.

Saudi Arabia’s thriving sports sector is part of a wider mission to debunk negative stereotypes of the country and shift the narrative.

“We will deliver the message that we are the country of peace and the religion of peace,” Al-Sabban concluded.


Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre

Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre
Updated 6 sec ago
Follow

Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre

Laporta gambles on Flick to restore Barcelona’s lustre
Before May had run its course, Laporta sacked the former Barca midfield great and appointed German coach Hansi Flick in his stead
“You will suffer — this is a very complicated place to be,” Xavi warned his successor

BARCELONA: At the end of April, Barcelona president Joan Laporta, choking with emotion, said he was “proud” to have Xavi Hernandez staying on as coach for next season.
Before May had run its course, Laporta sacked the former Barca midfield great and appointed German coach Hansi Flick in his stead.
Since the president was re-elected for his second spell in charge in March 2021, Barcelona have been without a coherent plan, running purely on vibes. It can only get you so far.
Selling off areas of the club and compromising future income to raise immediate funds for heavy transfer investment, Laporta opted for a get-success-quick strategy, with limited results.
Barcelona won the 2022/23 La Liga title for the first time since 2019, but they have still struggled in Europe.
This season everything fell to pieces, with Real Madrid storming to La Liga glory and Barcelona finishing the campaign trophyless.
“It’s fantastic news that Xavi is staying — the team we have, which is growing with many young talents, needs this stability,” said Laporta, weeks before performing a spectacular u-turn.
Xavi for his part did not mince his words about the challenges that faced Flick.
“You will suffer — this is a very complicated place to be,” Xavi warned his successor.
Barcelona’s ‘entorno’ — everything swirling around the club that increases pressure, from the media to the fans, to loose-lipped directors and former players chipping in — will stay the same.
However in hiring Flick, the club’s direction has changed.
The majority of their coaches have played for Barcelona — Xavi, Ronald Koeman, Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola among others.
Flick on the other hand, has never played or coached in Spain, let alone at the club itself.
The 59-year-old’s greatest success was leading Bayern Munich to a sextuple in 2020, including an 8-2 humiliation of Barcelona, but he struggled with the German national team, becoming their first coach ever to be sacked.
Barca’s sporting director Deco warned in February that Barcelona should move away from their traditional “tiki-taka” style.
“The president agrees with me on this, a deep change is needed — there is a method that is worn out,” he said.
Flick’s style is attacking but more direct than Barcelona usually attempt to play, with more crossing.
The coach will be happy to work with Ilkay Gundogan, whom he appointed Germany captain, and Robert Lewandowski, a key player in his triumphant Bayern Munich side.
He boasts coaching experience which Xavi lacked, having only worked at Al-Sadd in Qatar before taking the reins at Camp Nou.
Flick tends to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, rather than Barcelona’s 4-3-3, although they are not far removed.
The club’s financial difficulties will be a key factor in whether the German can improve Barcelona’s fortunes.
After pivot Sergio Busquets left, Barcelona failed to adequately replace him, unable to afford Xavi’s main target, Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi.
With new champions and rivals Real Madrid set to sign Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe, keeping up with Los Blancos will be a hard task for any coach.

Usyk, Fury heavyweight rematch set for December 21 in Riyadh

The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury. credit: social media
The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury. credit: social media
Updated 8 min 38 sec ago
Follow

Usyk, Fury heavyweight rematch set for December 21 in Riyadh

The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury. credit: social media
  • The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury in the Saudi capital on May 19 in the first unification fight of the four-belt era

Riyadh: Oleksandr Usyk will face Tyson Fury in a rematch on December 21 in Riyadh, the top Saudi organizer said on Wednesday, after winning their undisputed heavyweight boxing bout earlier this month.
The undefeated Ukrainian won by split decision against Britain’s Fury in the Saudi capital on May 19 in the first unification fight of the four-belt era.
“The rematch between the undisputed champion Oleksandr Usyk and the champion Tyson Fury is now scheduled on the 21 of December 2024 during Riyadh Season,” Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, posted on X, formerly Twitter.
Britain’s Lennox Lewis won the last undisputed heavyweight championship against Evander Holyfield in 1999. Both men were ringside as Usyk handed Fury, 35, his first defeat.
The 37-year-old Ukrainian, who briefly served as a soldier after the Russian invasion, was also undisputed champion at cruiserweight and won Olympic, world and European honors as an amateur.


Boxers arrive in Riyadh for historic 5 vs. 5 event

Their fighters will battle it out inside the ring on June 1 at the Kingdom Arena as part of Riyadh Season. supplied
Their fighters will battle it out inside the ring on June 1 at the Kingdom Arena as part of Riyadh Season. supplied
Updated 44 min 16 sec ago
Follow

Boxers arrive in Riyadh for historic 5 vs. 5 event

Their fighters will battle it out inside the ring on June 1 at the Kingdom Arena as part of Riyadh Season. supplied
  • The event is set to make history as the boxing world’s biggest promoters and British rivals, Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren, go head-to-head
  • The main fight card will see Russian champion Dmitry Bivol up against his Libyan opponent Malik Zinad

The boxers facing off in the eagerly awaited 5 vs. 5 event in Riyadh took part in a grand arrival on Tuesday night at Boulevard City in the Saudi capital.

The event is set to make history as the boxing world’s biggest promoters and British rivals, Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren, go head-to-head. Their fighters will battle it out inside the ring on June 1 at the Kingdom Arena as part of Riyadh Season.

The main fight card will see Russian champion Dmitry Bivol up against his Libyan opponent Malik Zinad. The pair drew major attention on Tuesday night as fans approached them at the boxers’ arrival site for photos. Pressure is mounting on both champions to maintain their undefeated records across 22 fights.

On fighting in Saudi, Zinad told Arab News: “This is fantastic — this is a great feeling for me. I give everyone hope to work hard and nothing is impossible … work hard and you will make it.”

His opponent, Bivol, previously told Arab News that the event is an “amazing opportunity” to show his boxing skills to a new region and gain fans in the process.

“Saudi Arabia is still a new region for boxing events but they are doing it well, and I hope they continue doing it,” he said.

For Saturday’s undercards, Warren’s camp includes Nick Ball, Hamzah Sheeraz, Willy Hutchinson,  Daniel Dubois and Zhang Zhilei. Hearn’s lineup includes Austin Williams, Raymond Ford, Craig Richards, Filip Hrgovic and Deontay Wilder.

Arab News asked Warren about the prospects of a Saudi boxer one day representing Queensberry on the world stage.

“I don’t think it’ll be that far off … you look at the skill sets of some of them, look at them working out, you can see that they are really buying into this and into it in a big way,” he said.

“I promise you there will be Saudi champions not long in the future.”

Warren and Hearn’s family rivalry dates back five decades, and boxing fans around the world are bursting with excitement to finally see the two come together for 5 vs. 5.

Warren told Arab News that “Riyadh now is the capital of world boxing” and that boxing events in the Kingdom are “going from strength to strength to strength.”

He added: “I’m 72 now — I’m thinking to myself ‘I have seen it all,’ but I haven't seen it all. I’m getting surprised on a regular basis.”

Hearn believes that Saudi Arabia’s grassroots infrastructure and hosting of top boxing events is significant for building champions of the sport in the Kingdom.

“You go down the local gyms, the Mike Tyson gyms, you see young boys, young girls chasing their dreams because they’re seeing it on the ground here, you know, and you have to have role models — you have to have heroes,” he told Arab News.

“I think that you’re going to see great fighters come out of the Kingdom. It will take time, but the infrastructure is there,” he added.

Spotted at the grand arrival was Saudi pro boxer Ziyad Almaayouf. He told Arab News that fights like 5 vs. 5 “inspire young fighters like me to take the risks, fight the best.”

The event will not only be significant within boxing history, but also for its effects on each fighter’s career.

Ahead of the grand arrival, Wilder told Arab News: “This is everything for me. This could be the be-all and end-all for me.”

The boxers are staging public workouts for fans on Wednesday, and will take part in a press conference on Thursday.

On Friday, the boxers will undergo official weigh-ins before the big event on Saturday evening.


Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league

Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league
Updated 29 May 2024
Follow

Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league

Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league
  • The city will become the home of UAE league matches

DUBAI: Expo City Dubai has signed a partnership agreement with the NBXL, the world’s first US-Middle East-based independent professional basketball league.

The city will become the home of UAE league matches and give it naming rights to one of four teams representing Dubai in the inaugural 2025 season.

The signing was a preview to the main launch on Oct. 5, when Expo City Dubai will unveil its team name, logo, key players, merchandise, staff and schedule. The announcement will also reveal three other teams, with entertaining basketball activities and opportunities for fans to meet and greet players.

With NBXL teams featuring elite players from around the world, UAE league matches will be played at Expo City Dubai with additional league games planned in the US and Saudi Arabia.

No stranger to the UAE, the NXBL hosted two days of basketball activities during Expo 2020 Dubai. It also took part in the 2022, 2023 and 2024 Dubai Schools Games Basketball Championships — an initiative by Dubai Sports Council featuring more than 150 private and public schools.

The partnership reflects Expo City Dubai’s commitment to boost the health and well-being of the community by actively engaging the public in sports, fitness and wellness events.


Young Afghan side ‘among the favorites’ for T20 World Cup

Young Afghan side ‘among the favorites’ for T20 World Cup
Updated 29 May 2024
Follow

Young Afghan side ‘among the favorites’ for T20 World Cup

Young Afghan side ‘among the favorites’ for T20 World Cup
  • Afghanistan celebrated their stunning eight-wicket victory against Pakistan in the ODI World Cup in October last year 
  • They finished sixth, ahead of defending champions England who they also beat, stoking hopes for T20 tournament

KABUL: A young Afghan side with an average age of just 25 have vowed to give audiences back home rare cause for jubilation at the T20 World Cup after a breakthrough performance at the 50-over showpiece.
Kabul’s skies were raked with fireworks when Afghanistan celebrated their stunning eight-wicket victory against Pakistan in the ODI World Cup in October.
They finished sixth, ahead of defending champions England — who they also beat — stoking hopes for the T20 tournament in the United States and West Indies starting on Saturday.
“In the past when we would defeat a bigger team, our victory was tagged as an ‘upset’,” 22-year-old Sediqullah Atal told AFP on the phone from their training camp in the West Indies.
“The word ‘upset’ is no longer in the dictionary and we are ranked among the favorites,” the left-handed opening batsman said, insisting his team is “no less than anyone.”
Afghanistan has been through decades of war, but the country’s passion for cricket has never gone away.
“When you have the support of 40 million people and they motivate you, it is a feeling of absolute delight,” said 20-year-old all-rounder Nangeyalia Kharote.
It’s “a matter of great joy” to represent his country, though they must now “match the high expectations” of supporters, he told AFP in Kabul ahead of his departure for the Caribbean.
“The love from the Afghans both at home and abroad is remarkable,” Sediqullah Atal added.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), which manages the men’s team, has the full backing of the country’s Taliban government, which forced the United States and its allies out of the country before seizing power in 2021.
The Taliban rulers, yet to be recognized by any country, have effectively banned women from sports however under their austere interpretation of Islam.
Afghanistan’s participation in the World Cup therefore comes with some controversy, skirting the International Cricket Council’s rules which stipulate all Test-playing nations must have a women’s side.
The ICC has previously said the matter is “pending,” allowing Afghanistan to compete — although England and Australia have refused to play them outside the World Cup.
Despite decades of war and poverty Afghan cricket has strengthened, with new academies, sponsorship deals and tournament financing.
Their first match at the 2024 World Cup is on June 4 against Uganda in Guyana.
“Our team has arrived and are playing at a very high level in a short space of time,” cricket enthusiast Afzal Khan, who trains at the Rashid Khan Cricket Academy in Kabul, told AFP.
“They are our heroes, they will have a place in my heart forever,” said the 19-year-old, who hopes to fill the shoes of Afghan captain and ace spinner Rashid Khan.
“They have struggled through lots of difficulties to bring the team and our cricket to this level.”
In an interview published by the ACB last week, Khan pledged: “We will shine well in this World Cup too, and match the expectations of our compatriots.”
Back home in Kabul, another young cricketer in training made those expectations very clear. Naseem Khan told AFP “this will be the best World Cup for Afghanistan.”