How a Saudi basketball coach is giving local talent a chance to shine

Mohanned Shobain has high hopes for the sport in the Kingdom and believes its future looks bright. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 February 2022

How a Saudi basketball coach is giving local talent a chance to shine

  • Bringing sports to the country’s youth is at the heart of US-educated coach Mohanned Shobain’s philosophy
  • Inaugural Saudi women’s basketball tournament is being held in collaboration with Swish Basketball Academy

DUBAI: When Mohanned Shobain fell in love with basketball at the age of 15, little did he realize that it would become his full-time career. Nor could he have imagined that he would one day be coaching the next generation of Saudi stars and encouraging young women to take up what was until recently a male-dominated sport in the Kingdom.

Now, as Saudi Arabia hosts its first-ever women’s basketball tournament, Shobain is at the forefront of efforts to promote and develop the sport among women in the country and give local talent the chance to shine in the international arena.

A Saudi Premier League champion, he opened his first Swish Basketball Academy in Jeddah in 2017. It was followed by four more in the city and one in Riyadh.

His leading role in developing the sport of basketball in the Kingdom, particularly among women, is a serendipitous continuation of work he began as a student, when he wrote a thesis focusing on gender inequalities in sports. He said that when he returned home to the Kingdom after completing his studies, it served as a major motivation for him to improve the sports environment for both genders.




Mohanned Shobain has big plans for a new generation of male and female basketball  players in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

To that end, Shobain took a team of girls to Romania to compete in a three-on-three World Cup qualification tournament in 2019, and a boys’ team to take part in a competition in Dubai in 2018. Last year, the club helped to host the Saudi Kingdom Cup in Jeddah. This summer, he will take a girls’ team to Europe to take part in a basketball camp and develop their skills.

In the meantime, the Swish Basketball Academy is one of the organizers of the All-Women Saudi Basketball Tournament, the first event of its kind for women in the country, which began on Jan. 22 and continues until March 3, with games taking place in Jeddah and Riyadh.

“Just having this (women’s basketball) tournament and having this opportunity for them here is amazing,” Shobain said.

He added that community building is the main motivation for his work, in an effort to bring together local people and families and encourage them to get active and embrace a new lifestyle in a rapidly changing country.

Shobain, who is also a full-time physical education teacher at the American International School of Jeddah, has big plans to improve on this record by helping to train a new generation of male and female players.

At the heart of his philosophy is a desire to encourage the country’s youth to participate in sport. He said he sees great demand and hunger among local young people to take advantage of such opportunities.

He believes there is the talent and potential in the Kingdom not only for sports to increase in popularity as hobbies, but for Saudi men and women to make their mark in international competitions and at the Olympics.

Shobain’s efforts to develop local basketball talent are already bearing fruit; four players who train with him have made it to the Saudi national team, and two women are playing for university teams while studying in the US.

“The results are out there,” he said. “All the (academy’s basketball) coaches are currently playing professionally and they teach as a part-time job, just to represent themselves and represent the academy in a great way, where they can be good role models.

“I feel like we’ve built a great culture of not just basketball but a lifestyle of how basketball players and athletes would live.”

Participants in the inaugural All-Women Saudi Basketball Tournament are relishing the competition and the chance it has given them to gain experience and develop their skills.




At the age of 17, Layane Chemaitily is the youngest player on her team and in the tournament. (Supplied)

Layane Chemaitily, who started playing when she was 10 years old in Lebanon, said that the chance to compete on such a stage, in a big arena, is a dream come true. She admitted that she is feeling the pressure of competition, partly because at the age of 17 she is the youngest player on her team and in the tournament.

“I was scared and got butterflies in my stomach but I also wanted to compete and fight, and without my team around me cheering me on we wouldn’t have been able to cope with the pressure of the competition,” she said.

“There is a lot of adrenaline and pressure but we were also very happy to represent Saudi Arabia as girls (from) different cities across the Kingdom. It was really fun, and it helps you gain a lot of experience.”

Chemaitily added that she hopes the tournament not only will be a step for her personally toward earning a place on a professional team one day, but will also motivate other girls and young women in Saudi Arabia to pursue their dreams in areas of society that were once the sole preserve of men.

“I can see that gender barriers are falling in the Kingdom, especially because previously male-dominated sports are starting to organize leagues and tournaments for women,” she said. “There is a lot coming for us in the future.”

Shobain is certainly doing his part to increase and develop the opportunities for women. In addition to its basketball activities, Swish also offers a boot camp that includes fitness classes; scholarship opportunities; and community-service activities such as helping to build and maintain basketball courts, and providing sports kits, shoes and basketballs to people who cannot afford them.

“These community activities, as well as the sport itself, are things that can develop (a child’s) character to become a better person and to learn how to give and not just take,” he said, referring to the life skills learned alongside sporting abilities.

Shobain, who is 31 years old, recalled his first encounter with basketball as a child, when he came across a street court close to his house during walks with his mother along the corniche. Soon after, he bought a ball and started to join in pick-up games with other players.

“Day by day, I fell in love with it,” he said. “I started coming every day and then I started to show up twice a day, and more than twice a day. I would stay late at nights just to practice and shoot around, and that’s when I realized my passion for it.”
 




Mohanned Shobain’s efforts to develop local basketball talent are already bearing fruit. (Supplied)

Shobain hopes to instill in others the joy and excitement that accompanied his own discovery of the sport and his subsequent journey within it. An active teenager, he said he tried many sports, including soccer, swimming, track and field, and martial arts before basketball became his full-time passion. His soccer skills had even earned him a youth spot with Saudi Pro League side Al-Ahli but it was basketball that called loudest to him.

While a student in Malaysia, where he was studying business, he played for the University of Kuala Lumpur’s basketball team. As he honed his skills with them, he was spotted by a dean from Alfaisal University in Riyadh, who offered Shobain a full basketball scholarship to study there, play for the university’s team, and help to develop its sports program.

“It took me a week to think about it and then I made my decision and felt more comfortable about coming back home and continuing my bachelor’s education here,” he said.

After graduating, he explored a number of options to take his game to the next level and, with the help of a Saudi scholarship, he traveled to the US where he studied for a master’s degree in sports management at Cleveland State University in Ohio. It proved pivotal in the development of his game.

“I worked with the NBA (the National Basketball Association) and (NBA team) the Cleveland Cavaliers,” he said. “During my time there I also helped work with the men’s and women’s teams, playing and coaching.”

As the sport began to grow in popularity in the Kingdom, Shobain said he felt compelled to come back home to build a career and give something back to his community, despite receiving an attractive job offer in the US.




Shobain said he felt compelled to come back home to build a career and give something back to his community, despite receiving an attractive job offer in the US. (Supplied)

“I felt like the reason that I went to study outside was to bring it back to my community in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“That was a big drive for me to come back as soon as I was done, maybe not with 20 years of experience but at least with a little bit of knowledge that I can at least spread out now and start something that could benefit the next generation or the current generation.”

Shobain has high hopes for the sport in the Kingdom and believes its future looks bright, although he admitted change does not happen overnight.

“Everything takes time,” he said. “I’m very patient and I know our time will come and we will hopefully get there.

“There’s big potential for young Saudis, who could even make it to the NBA — they just need the right facilities, equipment, atmosphere, environment and training.”

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After latest milestone, Ronaldo eyes World Cup glory

Updated 28 November 2022

After latest milestone, Ronaldo eyes World Cup glory

  • A win against Uruguay would secure Portugal’s qualification from Group H to the knockout stages with a game to spare

DOHA: Another game, another personal milestone. For all the turmoil that has surrounded Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of what is likely to be his final World Cup, the Portugal great is still making his mark.

On Thursday, he became the first man to score in five World Cups.

Earlier this season, he registered the 700th club goal of his career.

Not bad for a 37-year-old, who doesn’t know where he will be playing beyond Qatar after having his Manchester United contract terminated in the wake of his incendiary interview criticizing manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners.

A win against Uruguay on Monday would secure Portugal’s qualification from Group H to the knockout stages with a game to spare after their opening 3-2 win against Ghana.

“This is just the beginning,” Ronaldo said in an Instagram post, adding that “there are no impossibilities.”

But if soccer’s ultimate numbers man is to achieve his ambition of lifting the one major trophy that eludes him, he can’t do it by himself.

That much was clear against Ghana, when Portugal also needed goals from Joao Félix and Rafael Leao to hold on for victory.

Felix is the likeliest heir to Ronaldo’s throne as Portugal’s inspiration-in-chief — and has even been linked with a potential move to United.

If Qatar is Ronaldo’s last World Cup dance, the moves aren’t quite as fluid as they once were.

His goal against Ghana came from the penalty spot, rather than a moment of the type of individual brilliance on which his career has been built.

That being said, FIFA Technical Study Group member Sunday Olizeh still described as “total genius” his ability to win a disputed foul from Mohammed Salisu that led to it — and Ghana coach Otto Addo insisted shouldn’t have been awarded.

Ronaldo’s celebrations suggested he doesn’t care where the goals come from, so long as they keep on coming. But Portugal can’t solely rely on such moments — and amid the noise that surrounds its most celebrated player, it can be forgotten how much talent coach Fernando Santos has at his disposal.

Not least Atletico Madrid forward Felix, United midfielder Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva of Manchester City.

“We have players that are more visible than others and they need to deal with that, with the high priority and pressure,” Santos said at a news conference Sunday before the game at the Lusail Stadium. “They express themselves in one particular way. There are players who are more extroverted, those more introverted, the most important thing is they play as a group, play together as one team.”

Portugal will be without Danilo Pereira, who suffered a rib injury in training.

Pepe, the 39-year-old center back, could replace him.

Uruguay drew 0-0 with South Korea in their first game of the tournament.

Like Portugal, Uruguay are blending the old and the new. Ronaldo’s long-time rival from their time at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, Luis Suarez, is in an attack that also features the country’s new generation of talent in Darwin Nunez and Facundo Pellistri.

At 35, Suarez is no longer the force he once was and he was substituted just after an hour against South Korea. Another 35-year-old in Edinson Cavani replaced him, but Uruguay still couldn’t find a goal.

“I said that we had not been able to perform at our best,” Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said. “However, we had six chances to score against their one in the first half — we hit South Korea’s post, we had six, and two that hit the post.”

Ghana exposed vulnerabilities in Portugal’s defense — but Uruguay will need to be much more clinical if the South American team is to capitalize on Monday.


Fullkrug strikes late to salvage Germany World Cup draw with Spain

Updated 28 November 2022

Fullkrug strikes late to salvage Germany World Cup draw with Spain

  • Niclas Fullkrug — on only his third international appearance — lashed home an 83rd-minute equalizer
  • Alvaro Morata’s deft touch from Jordi Alba’s cross had put Spain ahead

AL KHOR; Qatar: Niclas Fullkrug’s late equalizer snatched Germany a morale-boosting 1-1 draw with Spain in a heavyweight World Cup clash on Sunday, leaving both sides’ hopes of qualifying for the last 16 still in the balance.
Alvaro Morata’s flicked finish had Spain on course to secure qualification from Group E, but the electric Jamal Musiala and Fullkrug combined to foil La Roja and restore some German pride.
Costa Rica’s surprise win over Japan earlier eased some pressure on Germany after their shock loss to the Asian side, but they were unable to capitalize for large periods in a battle for the ball against Spain.
The four-time world champions suffered a humiliating group-stage exit in Russia four years ago, and Morata’s strike at Al Bayt Stadium had them on the ropes, but Werder Bremen striker Fullkrug finished brilliantly to divide the points.
Spain lead Group E on four points, from Japan and Costa Rica on three each, while Germany have one, with a final round of matches to come.
The only World Cup group-stage clash to pit two former champions against each other lived up to its top billing in intensity and tactical intrigue, with both sides set on trying to dominate possession and press extremely high.
Germany coach Hansi Flick rejected suggestions his side had been distracted in their shock opening defeat by Japan because of their pre-game protest against FIFA “silencing teams” and the taut opening exchanges quickly ensured all focus was on the football.
Flick cut Kai Havertz from his line-up and deployed Thomas Mueller up front after their shocking opening-day capitulation, hoping for a quick reaction.
However, Spain almost took the lead in the seventh minute when Manuel Neuer palmed Dani Olmo’s powerful drive from range onto the woodwork.
It seemed like they were picking up where they left off after their 7-0 demolition of Costa Rica, but Germany steeled themselves, keeping Luis Enrique’s side at bay.
Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon relied on his footwork under pressure as La Roja sought to dominate possession.
One mistake handed Serge Gnabry an opportunity, but he fired wide.
Neuer erred with the ball at his feet too, with Germany similarly looking to build from the back, but Ferran Torres could not capitalize.
Antonio Ruediger powered home a header from a free-kick, but his celebration was cut short after VAR caught him half a step ahead of the Spanish defense, leaving the teams tied at the break.
Germany nearly struck after Joshua Kimmich won the ball back pressing extremely high, but Simon produced a fine save to deny him.
Just when Luis Enrique’s side seemed to have lost their grip on the game, they broke the deadlock.
Morata, on for Torres, finished clinically at the near post from an inviting low cross from Jordi Alba after 62 minutes.
It looked like it was enough for the 2010 champions, but Fullkrug — on only his third international appearance — decided otherwise, sneaking in behind substitute Alejandro Balde and lashing past Simon with seven minutes remaining.
Leroy Sane, on as a substitute after injury, might have won it late on for Germany but was forced extremely wide as he rounded Simon and could not find a finish or produce a cutback.
Spain face Japan on Thursday, while Germany play Costa Rica, needing to win and hoping La Roja do not lose.


Brazil confident Neymar will be back to lead championship bid

Updated 27 November 2022

Brazil confident Neymar will be back to lead championship bid

  • Doubts have even been raised in some quarters that Neymar might struggle to feature again at the tournament, which finishes with the final in Doha on Dec. 18. Defender Marquinhos, who is also a teammate of the forward at Paris Saint-Germain, said Neymar

DOHA: Brazil are confident that Neymar will return to lead their bid to win a sixth World Cup despite the world’s most expensive player suffering an ankle injury in their opening match in Qatar.

The Brazil captain came off late on in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Serbia with what was later diagnosed as a sprained ankle and has since been ruled out of their second Group G outing against Switzerland on Monday.

Doubts have even been raised in some quarters that he might struggle to feature again at the tournament, which finishes with the final in Doha on December 18.

But defender Marquinhos, who is also a teammate of the forward at Paris Saint-Germain, said Neymar has since been spending his days undergoing intensive physiotherapy in an attempt to recover full fitness as soon possible.

“At the time it was difficult for him and after the game he was sad which I think is normal given how much he has dreamt of this,” center-back Marquinhos said at a press conference in the Qatari capital on Sunday.

“Now, after the tests and the treatment, he is doing physiotherapy 24 hours a day which shows how much he wants to be back with us.

“We don’t know when, but we hope it’s as soon as possible.”

Brazil coach Tite insisted in the immediate aftermath of the win over Serbia that the 30-year-old Neymar would definitely play again at the tournament, but this time he was rather more measured when pressed on the subject of the superstar’s fitness, as well as that of right-back Danilo.

“I believe that Neymar and Danilo are going to play again at this World Cup. I do. But medically, clinically, I am in no position to say anything,” he admitted.

“I will keep doing so, not just for Neymar but also Danilo. I believe we are going to be able to use them again.”

A Brazil win against Switzerland at Doha’s Stadium 974 could be enough for them to secure a place in the last 16 with one group game to spare, depending on the result of the earlier Group G match between Cameroon and Serbia.

They would then play a last-16 tie on either December 5 or 6.

Danilo, the 31-year-old Juventus full-back, also suffered an ankle injury against Serbia and is expected to be replaced against the Swiss by either Real Madrid’s Eder Militao or the 39-year-old Dani Alves.

Yet it is the injury to Neymar that dominates all the talk in Brazil, a country which has become used to hanging on the fitness of its creative inspiration at the World Cup.

In 2014 he suffered a fractured bone in his back as Brazil beat Colombia in the quarter-finals and so missed the semifinal as the host nation went down 7-1 to Germany.

Four years ago he had to race to be fit in time for the World Cup in Russia and his impact on the tournament was

limited as the Selecao lost in the quarter-finals to Belgium.

This time he is the leader of a Brazil side that is nevertheless packed with quality in attack and who won their opening game thanks to a brace from the Tottenham Hostpur forward Richarlison.

“Obviously we wanted to have Neymar and Danilo. The coach wanted all 26 players available for the World Cup. But we are ready and confident that we can show how strong the squad is, that we are well trained and ready for whatever the tournament throws at us,” said Marquinhos.

“In a World Cup the team that starts the tournament is not always the team that finishes it, because of injuries or because some are playing better than others.

“Everyone has an important role to play.”


Tehran slams US football body after modified Iran flag posts

Updated 27 November 2022

Tehran slams US football body after modified Iran flag posts

  • US Soccer media officer Michael Kammarman: The intent of the posts was to show ‘support for women in Iran fighting for basic human rights’
  • Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency said that the Iranian Football Federation will file a complaint against US Soccer to the FIFA Ethics Committee for ‘disrespecting the national flag’

TEHRAN: Tehran on Sunday slammed the US Soccer Federation after it briefly displayed the Iranian national flag on social media platforms without the country’s emblem in a show of support for anti-government protesters.

Iran’s government accused the American organization of removing the name of God from its flag and called for it to be “held responsible” for breaking FIFA rules.

The row has erupted in the run up to the two nations’ clash in a decisive World Cup match on Tuesday.

The USSF decision has added yet another political firestorm to the Middle East’s first World Cup which organizers had hoped would be spared off-the-field controversies.

Iran has been rocked by months of demonstrations against Tehran’s regime which have seen protesters from all walks of life burning pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and calling for the downfall of Iran’s theocracy.

Khamenei’s niece, a well-known rights activist, has called on foreign governments to cut all ties with Tehran over its violent crackdown on popular unrest.

A video of a statement by Farideh Moradkhani, an engineer whose late father was a prominent opposition figure married to Khamenei’s sister, was being widely shared online after what activist news agency HRANA said was her arrest on Nov. 23.

In the video, Moradkhani said: “Free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime.

“This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any rules except force and maintaining power.”

The clip was shared on YouTube by her brother, France-based Mahmoud Moradkhani on his Twitter account, and then by prominent Iranian rights activists.

In a statement on Sunday morning, the USSF said it had decided to forego the official Iranian flag on social media accounts to show “support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights.”

The Twitter account of the US men’s team displayed a banner with the squad’s matches in the group stage, with the Iranian flag only bearing its green, white, and red colors.

The same was seen in a post on its Facebook and Instagram accounts laying out the point totals so far in its group.

By Sunday afternoon, the normal flag with the emblem had been restored in the Twitter banner and the Facebook and Instagram posts with the altered flag had been removed.

The federation said: “We wanted to show our support for the women in Iran with our graphic for 24 hours.”

Its spokesman Neil Buethe would not say if the original decision had been cleared by USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former national team player.

“This was a decision within the federation. I’m not going to get into who knew and who didn’t,” he said.

On whether there had been discussions with diplomatic entities, Buethe added: “There have been at certain times. I’m not going to talk about those, but, again, this is our decision not anyone else’s or pressure from anyone else.”

The USSF displayed the official Iranian flag in a graphic showing the World Cup Group B standings on its website.

The demonstrations challenging Iran’s government were sparked by the Sept. 16 death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police.

Protests have since seen at least 450 people killed and more than 18,000 arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an advocacy group following the demonstrations.

Iran’s ISNA news agency quoted Safiollah Fagahanpour, an adviser to the Iranian Football Federation, saying that the “measures taken regarding the Iran flag are against the law” of FIFA competitions.

“They must be held responsible. Obviously, they want to affect Iran’s performance against the US by doing this,” Fagahanpour added.

Iran’s flag has become a point of contention at the World Cup.

Apparent pro-government supporters have waved it, shouting at those demonstrating over Amini’s death.


Belgium slip to shock World Cup defeat by Morocco

Updated 27 November 2022

Belgium slip to shock World Cup defeat by Morocco

  • Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal’s late goals secured a surprise 2-0 triumph in Doha
  • Belgium produced another insipid display after their fortunate opening win over Canada

DOHA: Morocco jeopardized Belgium’s World Cup hopes as Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal’s late goals secured a surprise 2-0 triumph in Doha on Sunday.
Belgium, third in Russia four years ago, could have qualified for the last 16 with victory but instead produced another insipid display after their fortunate opening win over Canada.
Substitute Sabiri was the hero thanks to a 73rd-minute free-kick which Thibaut Courtois allowed to bounce in at his near post, before Aboukhlal grabbed a second in stoppage time.
The tens of thousands of Morocco supporters responded by cheering their team home at a raucous Al Thumama Stadium.
Morocco replace Belgium at the top of Goup F and know they will qualify for the knockout phase for the first time since 1986 if they can avoid defeat against Canada on Thursday.
Belgium, the world’s second-ranked side, will have to beat 2018 runners-up Croatia to be sure of going through.
Roberto Martinez’s aging side have reached at least the quarter-finals of each of the past four major tournaments.
Belgium, whose captain Eden Hazard has admitted are not as good as in 2018, lacked spark and were made to pay by inspired opposition.
Morocco were dealt a blow after the national anthems when goalkeeper Yassine Bounou appeared to gesture he would not be able to play.
The experienced Munir El Kajoui was sent out in his place.
The Atlas Lions fans vastly outnumbered their Belgian counterparts and breathed a sigh of relief when the Europeans almost grabbed a fourth-minute lead.
Hazard played in Michy Batshuayi whose effort from a tight angle was kept out by Munir.
Belgium dominated the early exchanges but Morocco did manage a shot at goal when Hakim Ziyech fired over from distance.
The African side continued to grow into the contest and Selim Amallah, who was born in Belgium, volleyed into the stands before Achraf Hakimi blazed a presentable chance off target.
The crowd erupted in raucous celebration when Ziyech’s free-kick flew all the way into the net in first-half injury time.
But the goal was ruled out after a VAR check, as Romain Saiss was leaning just offside and the former Wolves defender was in ‘keeper Courtois’ eyeline.
Both teams started the second period brightly, with Ziyech shooting straight at Courtois and Hazard bringing a save from Munir at his near post.
Sofiane Boufal almost broke the deadlock in the 57th minute after a jinking run but bent the ball narrowly wide of the far post.
Martinez made two changes on the hour mark, replacing the ineffective Hazard with Dries Mertens and bringing on Youri Tielemans for Amadou Onana in midfield.
Mertens almost made an immediate impact when his strike from just outside the area was beaten away by Munir.
The deadlock was finally broken with 17 minutes remaining as Sabiri’s free-kick from near the touchline, much like for Ziyech’s ruled out goal, caught out a flat-footed Courtois.
Martinez threw on Romelu Lukaku, expected to miss the game injured, in a desperate attempt to get back into the match.
But Belgium had long since run out of ideas and it was Morocco who scored the second goal of the game.
Brilliant play by Ziyech created space in the area for Aboukhlal to lash the Chelsea winger’s pull-back into the roof of the net.
Any tension in the stands was lifted and the Morocco fans were able to celebrate their first World Cup win in 24 years.