Saudi sports chief vows to stage more motor-racing events in Kingdom

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General Sports Authority chairman Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal (R) at the recent Formula E Diriyah E-Prix with president of the Saudi Arabia Motor Federation Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 November 2019

Saudi sports chief vows to stage more motor-racing events in Kingdom

  • The lessons learned by the General Sports Authority from hosting the 2018 series have helped it to make improvements for this year’s edition, says its Chairman Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal

DIRIYAH, Riyadh: Saudi sports chiefs have set themselves an annual rolling target of bringing “memorable new experiences” to racing fans in the Kingdom following the success of the weekend’s Formula E Diriyah E-Prix.

Chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA), Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, told Arab News on Saturday during the second round of the electric car championship at Diriyah Circuit, that the lessons learned by the authority from hosting the 2018 series had helped it to make improvements for this year’s edition.

The Kingdom was also making another “exciting” leap by hosting the Dakar Rally in January next year, but the prince admitted that organizing the world-famous event had been a “logistical nightmare.”

He added that constant assessment of the organization of largescale events was crucial in making memorable experiences for fans.

“One thing is for sure, we had a smoother process this year, and much smoother operations. Although we had issues that normally come up with big events, I think we’ve learned so much and it was the first time we had hosted something this big last year.

“Everything grew dramatically this year, as has the GSA — now we’re doing a whole month of events, not just three days,” the prince said.

“I think the challenge is, last year we had the ‘wow factor’ because nothing like this had happened and people were amazed. But this year, we no longer had that ‘wow factor,’ so then you ask, ‘what are you going to replace it with?’ You go with a better set-up around the track and you promote it better. You make sure the fan experience – from transportation to walking in, all of these things, are smoother and that it is enjoyable. 

“I think every year we need to refine that to make sure their experience of Formula E is different to the last,” he added.

Prince Abdul Aziz noted that he was pleased with the outcome of turning the Formula E event in Saudi Arabia into a double-header weekend of racing.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The prince says he is pleased with the outcome of turning the Formula E event in Saudi Arabia into a double-header weekend of racing.

• He says that bringing Formula E to Saudi Arabia, as well other sporting events in the coming months, is part of the wider Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.

“The format of Formula E is that everything happens in one day – that is something we learned from our experience last year. So, this year we wanted to give something more, so we said we would do two rounds in one weekend — and people are enjoying the atmosphere and there is more content over the weekend, which gives us value in everything we do,” he said.

The prince pointed out that bringing Formula E to the Kingdom, as well other sporting events in the coming months, was part of the wider Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.




Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal was speaking at the second round of the Formula E Championship at Diriyah Circuit. (Supplied)

Formula E started everything. So, last year we had the race and the concerts, and we saw the government doing the ‘Seasons’ from March, whether it was in the Eastern Province, Jeddah or Taif – then we had the Diriyah Season. 

“Formula E marks the launch of the Diriyah Season, the first weekend in a month of big, standalone international events that we’re promoting in the Kingdom. Formula E is part of the overall plan of hosting big events and promoting sports,” Prince Abdul Aziz added.

The lessons learned from hosting two editions of Formula E has given the GSA the experience needed to bring other top-class motorsport events to the Kingdom, such as the Dakar Rally taking place in January 2020.

“Dakar is happening on Jan. 5 to 17, which I think is the biggest motorsport event you can host — it spans 12 days, it’s across the Kingdom and is almost 9,500 kilometers long with 351 participants from all over the world. 

“We’re very excited for it, but it’s a logistical nightmare. I thought that we learned a lot last year from doing Formula E — preparing even the marshals and getting our expertise up. Dakar was just another leap, and we’ve signed for 10 years with Dakar,” he said.

Carlo Boutagy, CEO of CBX, the firm responsible for constructing the Diriyah Circuit and promoter of the E-Prix, said viewing figures for the Riyadh race had grown this year.

“Last year, 38 million viewers worldwide were watching this race specifically, and Formula E grows every year, season after season. I think we are expecting 45 million per race (this year), so with a two-day race, about 90 million viewers.”

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Australian Open: Top-ranked Ash Barty a step closer to ending Aussie drought

Updated 28 January 2020

Australian Open: Top-ranked Ash Barty a step closer to ending Aussie drought

  • Barty aiming to be the first Australian woman since Chris O’Neill in 1978 to win the Australian Open
  • She won her first title on home soil in Adelaide in the lead-up to this season’s first major

MELBOURNE, Australia: Top-ranked Ash Barty is a step closer to ending a long drought for Aussies at the national championship.
Barty saved set points in the 11th game and another in the tiebreaker before seizing the momentum against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in a 7-6 (6), 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena. She next faces No. 14 Sofia Kenin, who reached the semifinals at a major for the first time with a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 78-ranked Ons Jabeur.
Barty fended off eight of the nine break-point chances she faced in the first set before finally getting the upper hand when she won a 22-shot rally, defending for much of it just to stay in the point, at 3-2 in the tiebreaker.
After clinching the first set in 69 minutes, she went on a roll to take a 4-0 lead in the second and take all the momentum away from Kvitova, who beat Barty here at the same stage last year before losing the final to Naomi Osaka.
Barty rebounded from that to win her first major title at the French Open, where she beat Kenin in the fourth round. Until she arrived in Australia, Kenin’s run at Roland Garros — which included a third-round upset over Serena Williams — was her best at a Grand Slam.
There’s a lot of local expectation riding on Barty, who is aiming to be the first Australian woman since Chris O’Neill in 1978 to win the Australian Open. The first major of the decade may see the end of the 42-year wait, and an Australian man hasn’t won since 1976. Barty is already the first Australian woman since 1984 to reach the semifinals of the home Open.
Barty doesn’t expect to feel the pressure. She won her first title on home soil in Adelaide in the lead-up to this season’s first major.
“I’m not going to have anything but a smile on my face when I walk out onto this court,” Barty said of her next match.
Kenin and Jabeur were both into the quarterfinals for the first time at a major.
For Kenin, who was born in Moscow but moved to the United States as a baby and grew up in Florida, the degree of difficulty will only increase.
“I’m in the semis,” she said, when asked for her preference of semifinal rival. “Anyone I play, they’re playing really well.”
Kenin is playing her best tennis, too. Her best previous run at Melbourne Park ended in the second round, when she lost to Simona Halep last year.
She finished last year ranked 14th, and could match Barty in one category: they were tied for most hard-court wins on the women’s tour last year with 38 wins each.
Kenin’s run here included a comeback win in the third round against 15-year-old Coco Gauff, when she made only nine unforced errors across the second and third sets.
In the second set against Jabeur, she saved three break points in a long sixth game, then broke serve in the seventh game to set up the win.
“It was a tough moment,” Kenin said. “I didn’t know it was 10 minutes (but) it was pretty long, the game. After that I got my momentum.”
Jabeur, a 25-year-old Tunisian, was the first Arab woman to make it to the last eight at a major.
“Ï think I proved that I can be in the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam, even if I have a lot of things to improve probably physically and mentally,” she said. “But I’m happy that I pushed through a lot of things. I proved to myself that I could do a lot of great things.”
In later men’s quarterfinals, 20-time major winner Roger Federer was playing 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren, and seven-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic had a night match against Milos Raonic of Canada.