Arab golf star salutes Saudi women’s tournament as a ‘dream come true’

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Maha Haddioui will be competing for a share of the $1 million prize pool in the Kingdom’s inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International golf tournament. (Supplied)
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Moroccan trailblazer Maha Haddioui, who joined the Ladies European Tour in 2012, said she never dreamt that professional women’s golf would come to the Kingdom. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 March 2020

Arab golf star salutes Saudi women’s tournament as a ‘dream come true’

  • Trailblazing Moroccan says inaugural pro challenge ‘opens new horizons’ for female sport

JEDDAH: The Arab world’s first female golfer to compete on the Tour has revealed she never dreamt of seeing professional women’s golf come to Saudi Arabia — let alone a tournament she describes as “a huge step forward” in expanding the women’s game globally.

Moroccan Maha Haddioui, who has played on the Ladies European Tour (LET) since 2012, will be competing for a share of the $1 million prize pool in the Kingdom’s inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International golf tournament from March 19-22.

The four-day event at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) on the Kingdom’s Red Sea coast will feature many of the game’s biggest names in what will be Saudi Arabia’s first professional women’s competition.

Haddioui, 31, said that the tournament highlights the opportunities now available to Arabic women, with the Middle East helping to push women’s sport to new heights.

“I never thought I would go to Saudi Arabia to play golf. Now, to be able to represent Arab women’s golf in the Kingdom is amazing and something I never thought would happen.

“I’m excited that Arab countries are taking a step forward in helping women’s golf grow. The Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco has been one of the largest women’s tournaments for years. Now having Saudi Arabia up there with the biggest in the sport is something I’m hugely proud of as an Arab woman.

“I’m just happy to play in new events no matter where they are. Playing a professional women’s event in Saudi is amazing and proof that things are moving forward. I am so proud to be part of that and to have the LET be part of that.”

Asked about the impact a leading women’s event such as the Tour could have on the Kingdom, Haddioui said that it could help transform the sporting ambitions of the Kingdom’s women. 

“As a professional player, I get a lot of questions along the lines of: ‘Is this your job? How can you have this as a job?’ In response, I always offer the comparison with professional football players, and how they travel the world playing their sport. As soon as I explain that it opens people’s minds and they understand that a woman from our culture, from our part of the world, can do a job like this.

“When young girls look at that, they realize they can do the same — and not just with golf, but with any sport. I think it’s important to have someone you can look to who has already done these things, reached those levels. I pride myself in being able to demonstrate that.

“When I was still an amateur and thinking of turning pro, because no one had done it before, everyone all told me ‘No.’ They almost kind of joked about it. Today, young girls in Morocco and places such as Saudi Arabia who are thinking about golf and want to take it seriously don’t see it as a joke anymore — because somebody has done it. That is something I’m proud of and I hope will produce more Arab sportswomen in the future.”

The Aramco Saudi Ladies International will include England’s two-time LET Order of Merit winner Georgia Hall, last weekend’s NSW Open champion Julia Engstrom, 12-time LET tournament winner Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa, and a host of Solheim Cup and international players.

The tournament will also feature a family entertainment zone with food trucks, games and challenges.

Milan turn to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Liverpool to revive glory

Updated 09 July 2020

Milan turn to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Liverpool to revive glory

ROME: Preparing to complete a ninth Serie A campaign without winning the Scudetto, AC Milan decided returning to the pinnacle of football required a new approach.

Jay-Z’s entertainment agency Roc Nation is at the center of it, linking up with Milan to scour the world for sponsors and use concerts and other high-profile events to attract new fans.

And who better to ask about how to end a title drought than the team that just won their league for the first time in 30 years?

“We have been talking to Liverpool,” Milan chief revenue officer Casper Stylsvig told The Associated Press, “because they’ve been through the same path as we are going through now.”

Milan are enduring their longest Serie A drought since the 1980s. Despite beating leader Juventus on Tuesday, even the top four Champions League places are out of reach in this pandemic-delayed season. It’s been seven years since Milan last competed in Europe’s elite competition.

“We’re working very hard to get back to where we should be, and from that perspective, it does help open doors when you have won seven Champions Leagues,” Stylsvig said. 

“Playing European football is top of the agenda. It is our natural habitat and somewhere we should be.”

Only Real Madrid has lifted the European Cup more often than Milan. But that seventh title was won 13 years ago, by beating Liverpool.

Now Liverpool are the lodestar for Milan, which have fallen to 21st in the Deloitte ranking of football’s moneymakers with revenue of €206.3 million  ($234 million) in the last financial year, a third of the income at the newly crowned Premier League champions.

“Four, five years ago, no one considered Liverpool and see where they are now,” Stylsvig said. “They obviously play very attractive football. They are winning, they have a fantastic manager, a fantastic team and now they are following suit from a commercial perspective. It has taken time, but their model seems to work.”

Liverpool have been run for a decade by John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group. Milan have also had American ownership for three years since the takeover by the Elliott Management hedge fund.

“We are obviously a global brand,” Stylsvig said in a telephone interview. “I’ve probably been talking too much in the Italian market in the last few years and (the coronavirus) sort of pushed us to think more global again.”

The pandemic that shut down sports produced the first public manifestation of the partnership with Roc Nation when Milan staged a live virtual fundraising concert headlined by Alicia Keys.

“I do think merging sport and entertainment could be the way of engaging new fans,” Stylsvig said. “The world has changed dramatically and we need to follow suit. Roc Nation is helping us, challenging us with that, having someone on the sideline to do that.”

The biggest audiences logging in to watch “From Milan with Love” were from China and the US.

With no games being played during the three-month Serie A shutdown — and crowds still prohibited from matches — Milan have had to find new ways of connecting with its fan base and fulfilling commercial deals.

“It’s been incredibly challenging,” Stylsvig said. “You basically have to rethink the model. So one of the first things we did was focusing much more on a digital space, creating content and trying to be engaging and trying to talk to our partners.”

Further down the line is moving into a new stadium, with plans to rebuild the San Siro it shares with Inter Milan.

“That will change the club,” Stylsvig said. “The revenues are incredibly important but also for the perception of the club.”