Saudia unites football, motorsport with displays in Newcastle, Berlin

Saudia unites football, motorsport with displays in Newcastle, Berlin
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Updated 15 May 2024
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Saudia unites football, motorsport with displays in Newcastle, Berlin

Saudia unites football, motorsport with displays in Newcastle, Berlin
  • Kingdom’s flag carrier introduces fans to new Gen3 Formula E car at St. James’ Park
  • Immersive fan zone offers variety of interactive experiences during Berlin E-Prix

BERLIN/JEDDAH: Saudia, the flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, has flown the new Gen3 Formula E car to St. James’ Park in the UK to coincide with Newcastle United’s final home game of the season.

The carrier has a strategic partnership with the Premier League club and is also the official airline partner of the all-electric Formula E series.

The event coincided with the release of a short film bringing together the worlds of motorsport and football, with football fans being introduced to Formula E and the car.

“This event provides a fantastic platform for us to engage with our guests and the global audience, whether in person or through our innovative digital portals,” Khaled Tash, Saudia Group’s chief marketing officer, said in the statement.

“Integrating our partnerships with both Newcastle United and Formula E in such an engaging manner exemplifies our commitment to bringing fans closer to the sports they love. Each year, we strive to elevate the experience for racegoers and fans worldwide, as part of our commitment to creating unforgettable memories wherever our brand is present.”

Saudia also hosted an immersive fan zone experience during the Berlin E-Prix on May 11-12 in Berlin.

Fans were given access to an E-Village, with a dedicated Discover-E Zone featuring a variety of interactive experiences, as well as games, competitions, and giveaways featuring both Saudia and Formula E merchandise.


Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health

Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health
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Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health

Cricket’s rising demands are impacting physical and mental health
  • Against a background of outstanding achievements are cries for help by professional cricketers who want to reduce their workload

Fred Trueman of Yorkshire and England was long regarded as his nation’s greatest fast bowler. In his prime, he bowled a thousand overs for Yorkshire during a summer.

This was an era when the only cricket matches on view, apart from Tests, were three-day county championships between 17 counties. In 1964, Trueman was the first bowler to claim 300 wickets in Test matches. When asked if he thought his achievement would be beaten, his response — typical of the man — was: “Aye, but whoever does it will be very tired.”

Since then, 36 bowlers have beaten Trueman’s record. Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan claimed 800, followed by Australia’s Shane Warne with 708, and then there is England’s James Anderson, who has 700 and is due to play his last Test this year.

Anderson’s longevity and fitness is truly remarkable. He has sent down almost 40,000 deliveries in Test matches alone, the fourth highest among those taking more than three hundred wickets. He is not admitting to any tiredness and is regarded by some as having claim to be England’s finest quick bowler, rather than Trueman. Both their achievements, in different eras, are extraordinary. Trueman’s feat was accompanied by a bowling average of 21.57, only bettered by Malcom Marshall (20.94) and Curtly Ambrose (20.99). Anderson’s is 26.52.

It is against the background of these achievements that current cries for help by professional cricketers to reduce their workload should be gauged. Another of Yorkshire’s finest players is Joe Root who, in 140 Tests for England so far, has scored 11,626 runs. This puts him 10th on the all-time list of top Test run scorers. His workload has been intense for years, even more so when he captained England in 64 Tests, yet he rarely complains. Last week, however, he called for a major rethink of English cricket’s crowded schedule.

This was accompanied by the Professional Cricketers Association calling for change “before something disastrous happens.”

Based on a survey of professional male cricketers, the PCA revealed that key concerns are physical heath (81 percent), travel conditions (75 percent) and mental health (62 percent). Long-distance driving late at night, whether moving between matches or traveling home, is a particular worry. It is argued that player welfare and performance are compromised by the lack of time to recover, prepare and practice.

Professional cricket in England and Wales has a particular issue in that there are four men’s competitions shoe-horned into a window between mid-April and the end of September, with August given over entirely to The Hundred. Last year, proposals to reduce the amount of four-day county cricket and T20 cricket were rejected by the counties. Effectively, the 50 over competition has been downgraded because so few of the top players appear in it. According to Root, the objective should be to get “the standard of first-class and county cricket as close as you can to the international game.”

Professional cricketers in England and Wales have raised the issue of congested schedules and travelling pressure before. The explosion of T20 cricket in the last 20 years has increased this congestion and turned it into a more international concern. In India and Australia, for example, the distances between venues are much greater, with flying and its attendant risks additional factors.

In November 2023, during the announcement of India’s ODI squad for a series against Australia, India’s captain, Rohit Sharma, blamed excessive travel for injured players across the teams. It is in the interests of all cricket boards to narrow the gap between the standard of the breeding ground of first-class cricket and international cricket. Each one has different ways of doing so, a reflection of relative resources, geography and historic structures.

In India, reform is proposed for 2024-25. It seems likely that the Ranji Trophy, the country’s state-based long format game and the equivalent of the English county championship, will be split into two halves. White ball tournaments would be held in between. The main drivers behind this are to address variable winter weather conditions in the north and to allow longer gaps between matches to facilitate travel and recovery. This is similar reasoning to that aired by Joe Root and the PCA.

More forgiving schedules may release pressure on mental health, an often-overlooked facet of professional sport. There have been a number of high-profile cases in recent years in cricket. Azeem Rafiq’s experience of racism at Yorkshire was one. Another was Jonathan Trott, who played 52 Tests for England between 2009 and 2015. He left England’s tour of Australia in November 2013, unable to cope with the demands at that level. A man with very high levels of concentration lost them and referred to the impact of social media, saying: “People don't look you in the face and have a conversation and ask you how you are.”

Rohit Sharma, in the aftermath of India’s defeat in the 2023 ODI World Cup Final, was mentally shattered. He eschewed social media and opted out of ODI and T20I assignments against South Africa. Men’s cricket is a tough environment that appears not to appreciate that mental health issues are real. The growth of women’s cricket has brought about a change in approaches to mental health within the game. A webinar which I joined this week promoted by the Cricket Research Network discussed the different physiological challenges which women face in advancing in the game.

Quite what Fred Trueman would have made of this is an open question. He was an un-constituted menacing quick bowler who bullied opponents. It is not unreasonable to assume he would have been aghast at the notion of women playing professional cricket.

After his playing days were over, he became a pundit and commentator. His catch line was: “I don’t know what is going on.” He would be even more at a loss in today’s world of social media and Bollywood-style cricket.


Sami Zayn reflects on Saudi Arabia’s role in his journey to WrestleMania glory

Sami Zayn reflects on Saudi Arabia’s role in his journey to WrestleMania glory
Updated 2 min 30 sec ago
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Sami Zayn reflects on Saudi Arabia’s role in his journey to WrestleMania glory

Sami Zayn reflects on Saudi Arabia’s role in his journey to WrestleMania glory
  • He defends his Intercontinental Title this weekend in a triple threat match against Chad Gable and Bronson Reed at the WWE King and Queen of the Ring event in Jeddah
  • It comes 11 years after he signed with WWE and 10 years after he first visited the Kingdom to compete in an event
  • ‘If you’re an Arab kid … with a dream of chasing this, becoming a wrestler or the WWE or whatever it is, it’s much more attainable than it’s ever been,’ he says

RIYADH: Amid the expansive global reach of the WWE, few wrestling stars embody the spirit of international connectivity quite as completely as Sami Zayn. His journey from pre-WWE days to competing in Saudi Arabia for the first time a decade ago and then glory at WrestleMania surely reflects the transformative power of sports entertainment.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, he shared some insights into the evolution of his career, his aspirations, and the effects the partnership between WWE and Saudi Arabia has had on him personally and wrestling in general.

It came as Zayn prepared to defend his Intercontinental Title this weekend in a triple threat match against Chad Gable and Bronson Reed at the WWE King and Queen of the Ring event in Jeddah.

As he reflected on his journey, Zayn, who signed with WWE in 2013, reminisced about his first visit to Saudi Arabia the following year, in the early days of WWE’s partnership with sports authorities in the Kingdom.

Though Zayn is not of Saudi descent — he was born in Canada to Syrian parents — he expressed a profound sense of belonging in Saudi Arabia and the wider region because it resonates with him on a cultural level and he appreciates its familiar characteristics.

“You know, with your culture, your language, your people, the food, the smells, the sounds, I don’t know, there’s something about it,” he said. “It just feels like home, even though it’s not home, you know?”

Discussing his victory over Gunther in April at WrestleMania 40 to claim the Intercontinental Title, which his opponent had held for a record-breaking 666 days, Zayn said he achieved something many people thought was impossible, and it was a pivotal moment marked the end of a significant chapter in Gunther’s illustrious career.

“I think just being in the ring with Gunther — who obviously has shown that he’s one of our top superstars now and, you know, probably the best Intercontinental Champion we’ve ever had — to beat him at the biggest show of the year, I mean, I think it’s very, very memorable. And I think that’s one of the hardest things to do right now.”

Zayn did his best to articulate the indescribable thrill of competing on WWE’s grandest stage. Amid the deluge of content in modern wrestling, he said it is particularly significant if one can craft memorable moments that will endure beyond the duration of the event itself.

“I feel like the hardest thing to do nowadays is to have a memorable match and memorable moments that people will remember, oh, two, three, four, five, maybe even 10 years down the road,” he said.

“And I feel like that match (against Gunther) was good, if nothing else because of how long he held the title. I feel like it’ll be very well remembered. So I’m very proud of that.”

As Saudi Arabia continues to evolve and open up to the world, the rapid pace of developments in the country over the past few years has made sport and entertainment accessible to all and opened up ever-greater opportunities, which means that the prospects have never been better for aspiring Arab wrestlers to follow in Zayn’s footsteps.

He acknowledges that what not so long ago was a distant dream for Saudis is now a realistic possibility, and he credits the long-established presence of WWE in the Kingdom for helping to foster a sense of connectivity and inspiration. He also stressed the importance of encouraging emerging talents to show determination and perseverance as they pursue their dreams.

“Now, because of the fact that we run shows in Saudi and we have this partnership with Saudi Arabia and we’re more connected to the region, if you’re an Arab kid or a young man with a dream of chasing this, becoming a wrestler or the WWE or whatever it is, it’s much more attainable than it’s ever been,” he said.

“If you have that goal, look, it’s not easy, it’s never easy, but it’s more achievable now than it’s ever been … for somebody from anywhere here in the Middle East.”

As for his own future, Zayn has a pragmatic but optimistic view. While harboring ambitions for world championship glory, he said he prioritizes the art of storytelling and emotional engagement as his guiding principles. He remains committed to making a lasting impact on fans as he continues to evolve as a performer and storyteller.

“I would just like to keep doing what I’m doing now, which is to continue to tell good stories, prominent stories,” he said.

“I want to be an important part of the television show. And I think what I bring to the table, just as much as anybody if not more than most, is the emotional component of the stories that I tell in the ring or, you know, leading up to these matches.”

Still, he acknowledged that he would love to win the world championship before he steps out of the ring for the final time.

“But hopefully that’s not for another few years, you know, God willing, inshallah, at least five more years or something. But you don’t know what life has for you.”

Looking back on into his formative years, and his journey from wrestling fan to superstar, Zayn pays tribute to his own childhood idols and inspirations. From Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart to the Hardy Boyz, Mick Foley and Eddie Guerrero, they all left an indelible mark and influenced his journey.

He said the Hardy Boyz and Mick Foley in particular had a big impact on him “because they had stories that, in some ways, I could really relate to: They started in their backyard and then they got trained. It just seemed like a more attainable route to get there. I think they kind of opened my eyes in that way.”

WWE returns to Saudi Arabia this weekend with the double-header of SmackDown and then King and Queen of the Ring at Jeddah’s Superdome. The action begins on May 24 with the Kingdom’s inaugural SmackDown event, which will be broadcast live globally and include the second semifinals of the King and Queen of the Ring championships. The finals of those competitions will take place at the main event on May 25, along with Zayn’s battle and two other championship bouts.


Doncic leads strong close by Mavericks for 108-105 win over Wolves in Game 1 of West finals

Doncic leads strong close by Mavericks for 108-105 win over Wolves in Game 1 of West finals
Updated 23 May 2024
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Doncic leads strong close by Mavericks for 108-105 win over Wolves in Game 1 of West finals

Doncic leads strong close by Mavericks for 108-105 win over Wolves in Game 1 of West finals
  • Doncic was relatively quiet until he scored seven straight points over 63 seconds early in the fourth quarter
  • Minnesota host Game 2 on Friday night

MINNEAPOLIS: Luka Doncic had 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Dallas Mavericks to a 108-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night.

Kyrie Irving scored 24 of his 30 in the first half for the Mavericks, who trailed 102-98 after a 3-pointer by Anthony Edwards with 3:37 left before an 8-0 run the Wolves didn’t stop until a tip-in with 10.5 seconds to go.

Jaden McDaniels had his third straight 20-plus-point game with 24 points for the Wolves, but Edwards — who earned his first All-NBA selection prior to the game, on the second team — was stifled for 19 points in a team effort from the Mavericks. Karl-Anthony Towns needed a late burst to get to 16 points and finished 6 for 20 from the floor.

The star power in this series is strong, and for the first night at least the Mavericks got what they needed from their leading duo while the Wolves largely struggled to run the offense around theirs.

Dallas had a 62-38 advantage in points in the paint to offset a 6-for-25 shooting performance from deep.

Towns came to life with a long jumper, a lob to Rudy Gobert for a slam and a 3-pointer on a 2-minute burst to give the Wolves the lead back with 4:39 to go on the way to a 10-0 run that Doncic ended with a 3-pointer. P.J. Washington, who had 13 points and seven rebounds, hit from deep to put the Mavericks back in front with 1:56 to go.

Towns thought he tied the game with a putback dunk on the next possession, but that was waved off for basket interference.

Edwards, who went scoreless in the third quarter, added 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Neither team led by more than nine. Minnesota host Game 2 on Friday night.

Doncic was relatively quiet until he scored seven straight points over 63 seconds early in the fourth quarter, and the Mavericks stretched that to a 13-0 run for a 97-89 lead that Edwards finally ended with a 3-pointer after another helter-skelter possession.

The Wolves had two days off after dethroning defending champion Denver with a Game 7 comeback from a 20-point deficit to win the second-round series, and the transition was sharp from the Nuggets and NBA MVP Nikola Jokic’s deliberate and powerful style to the pick-and-roll-heavy Mavericks.

Irving’s stunning burst on the break and on the drive presented a unique challenge the Wolves and their league-leading defense didn’t face in the last round, when they held the Nuggets to an average of 85 points over their four wins. The Mavericks frequently sprung loose off screens for wide-open dunks.

McDaniels, who played his usual relentless defense on the perimeter, was the catalyst on the other end of the court too with five 3-pointers in the first half, but Towns had trouble getting shots to fall and Edwards found his driving lanes constantly clogged. The Mavericks have cranked up their defense since adding Daniel Gafford and Washington at the trade deadline, as top-seeded Oklahoma City can attest after losing in six games in the last round.

The Wolves have had the superior depth in each round so far, and Kyle Anderson gave them a vital 11 points in the first half. Naz Reid had 15 points, including a fast-break layup followed by a steal from Doncic to set up a 3-pointer by Edwards at the end of the first quarter that put the Wolves up 33-27 and had the crowd roaring.

The Wolves and these long-frustrated fans have reached unfamiliar territory with this team that has given the franchise just its second Western Conference finals appearance ever. The Mavericks were here just two years ago, but before Irving arrived. He’s the only player of significance in this series with a championship ring, having helped Cleveland win it all in 2016.


US, Canada squads at the Twenty20 World Cup are a melting pot of nationalities

US, Canada squads at the Twenty20 World Cup are a melting pot of nationalities
Updated 23 May 2024
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US, Canada squads at the Twenty20 World Cup are a melting pot of nationalities

US, Canada squads at the Twenty20 World Cup are a melting pot of nationalities
  • The team provides a snapshot of US cricket at this formative stage, as Major League Cricket jostles for its place in a crowded sporting market
  • Canada will be led by the veteran left-armer spinner Saad bin Zafar, who was born in Pakistan
  • The US meet Canada in the tournament opener on June 1 and then there’ll be a step up for both teams in Group A

NEW YORK: The US cricket team which will co-host the Twenty20 World Cup may be a fitting cross-section of its country as a roster of migrants, a melting pot of nationalities and cultures.

The 15-man squad includes players born in India, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa. Home-grown players include vice-captain Aaron Jones, who was born in Queens, and allrounder Steven Taylor, of Hialeah, Florida.

The team provides a snapshot of US cricket at this formative stage, as Major League Cricket jostles for its place in a crowded sporting market. The squad includes foreign players drawn to America by the MLC and local players given the chance to play cricket at a professional level in the United States

The home team’s most recognized member is the former New Zealand allrounder Corey Anderson. The 33-year-old Anderson played 13 Tests, 49 one-day internationals and 31 T20 internationals for New Zealand between 2013 and 2018 in a career limited by injuries.

He earned a place in cricket history for his 36-ball century in a one-day international between New Zealand and the West Indies on New Year’s Day, 2014. Anderson also has played in T20 leagues in Australia, India, the Caribbean and UAE before finding an MLC home at the San Francisco Unicorns.

Anderson made his first half-century for the US in their T20 win over Canada last month.

Mumbai-born Harmeet Singh, who played for India at two Under-19 World Cups, was the star for the 19th-ranked US team earlier this week in an upset win over Bangladesh. It the only the second win over a full ICC member for the US

He scored 33 from the 13 deliveries he faced and shared an unbeaten, match-winning 62-run partnership with Anderson, who was unbeaten on 34.

“It means a lot to us to put on a show against Bangladesh. We are no walkovers,” Harmeet told ESPNcricinfo. “I think our potential is immense.”

The US meet Canada in the tournament opener on June 1 and then there’ll be a step up for both teams in Group A, which also includes India and Pakistan, fierce cricket rivals with enormous support, and Ireland.

Among the other foreign-born players on the US squad coached by ex-Australia batter Stuart Law is right-arm fast bowler Ali Khan, who moved with his parents from Pakistan to the US when he was 18.

He first played for the US team in 2016 and has also has played in the Indian Premier League, Caribbean Premier League and Pakistan Premier League, in Global T20 Canada and the Afghanistan Premier League.

Captain Monank Patel, a wicketkeeper-batsman, was born in India and settled in New Jersey after moving permanently to the US in 2016. He played at a junior level for Gujarat in India and played the first of his 47 one-day internationals and 23 T20 internationals for the US in 2019.

Andries Gous, another wicketkeeper-batsmen, was born in Welkom, South Africa, played for South Africa at under-19 level and played 60 first-class matches before relocating to the US in 2021. He and Patel were the highest scorers for the US in the recent five-match series against Canada.

Allrounder Milind Kumar is another India-born player who accumulated nine centuries in 60 first-class appearances for Delhi before making his home in the US

The Canada team scheduled to meet the US in the opening match is also a team drawn from many places and shaped by the evolution of a professional league at home.

Canada will be led by the veteran left-armer spinner Saad bin Zafar, who was born in Pakistan. He moved to Canada to study and was first named in the Canadian T20 team in 2008. Now 37, he has played 38 T20 internationals and once took two wickets without conceding a run in four overs in a T20 against Panama.

Jamaica-born batter Aaron Johnson, Pakistan-born left-arm fast bowler Kaleem Sana and Guyana-born right-arm quick Dillon Heyliger reflect the international makeup of the team which is coached by former Sri Lanka international Pubudu Dassanayake.
 


Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries

Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries
Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries

Saudi and Japanese football leagues to work together to develop the sport in both countries
  • They will collaborate on ways to achieve sustainable growth of the sport, enhance the standard of football, and facilitate exchange of expertise between players and coaches
  • The agreement also includes plans for talent-discovery networks, cultural-exchange events, and friendly matches between Japanese and Saudi clubs

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League and Japan’s Professional Football League have signed an agreement to cooperate on ways to develop the sport in both countries.

To achieve this they will work with teams in both leagues and collaborate on ways to achieve sustainable growth of the sport, enhance the standard of football, facilitate the exchange of experiences and resources between players and coaches, and establish an effective system for communication about technical and administrative matters.

The agreement was signed on the sidelines of a Saudi-Japanese business forum by the vice chair of the SPL’s board of directors, Saad Allazeez, and Yoshokaze Ninomura of the J.League.

Allazeez said the agreement reflects the SPL’s transformation strategy and added: “This partnership will open new horizons for exchanging experiences and promoting the continuous development in the field of football between the two countries.

“We look forward to working with our counterparts in Japan to raise the level of the game at all levels.”

The agreement also includes support for the continued growth and development of SPL and J.League through workshops and conferences to consider ideas for strengthening football infrastructure, cooperation in talent-discovery networks to help identify and nurture stars of the future, cultural-exchange events that celebrate the diverse cultures of the two countries and enhance the global appeal of football, and friendly matches between Japanese and Saudi clubs.