‘Unprecedented’ interest in Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Ethara CEO

Ethara CEO Saif Al-Noaimi stands on Yas Marina Circuit’s famous Turn. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 November 2023

‘Unprecedented’ interest in Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Ethara CEO

  • Saif Al-Noaimi shows Arab News around Yas Marina Circuit, talks ticket sales, sustainability, F1’s most famous spot

ABU DHABI: Saif Al-Noaimi smiled as he surveyed arguably the most famous spot in the modern history of motorsports.

The CEO of Ethara — organizers of the Etihad Airways Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix — was standing on Yas Marina Circuit’s Turn 5, the exact spot where Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on Dec. 12, 2021, to win his first Formula 1 World Championship in dramatic circumstances.

Al-Noaimi understands more than most the significance of that iconic piece of real estate at the North Grandstand hairpin. It had been one of the segments that had been altered earlier that year to allow for more overtaking opportunities and exciting racing.

It delivered on those promises.

He said: “This is the turn that was changed completely in 2021. We saw Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen arriving at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with exactly the same number of points and this was the corner in which Max Verstappen overtook Lewis to claim the championship on the last lap at Yas Marina Circuit.”

Verstappen may have wrapped up this year’s title weeks ago, but the popularity of the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix — that concludes on Nov. 26 — remains as high as ever.

“The sales have been unprecedented. We didn’t expect this level of demand for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, so we launched our tickets earlier than we’ve ever launched in previous years. And we sold out within weeks of certain products, including grandstands,” Al-Noaimi added as he drove around the course.

The tickets also provide entry into the post-race concerts which this year include Ava Max, Tiesto, Chris Brown, Shania Twain, and Foo Fighters.

“There’s been extremely high interest in demand in all categories, grandstands, general admission, but also high-end hospitality and VIP offerings.

“When we saw that we sold out many of these products, we worked to add inventory and to build new products over the summer period,” Al-Noaimi said.

The old favorites remain. The Marina Grandstand, the W Abu Dhabi, and the Paddock Club — opposite the Main Grandstand — where a new podium will protrude onto the track, allowing fans a closer look at the drivers at the end of the race.

Stopping at Turn 2, Al-Noaimi pointed to the track’s latest additions, which will provide new hospitality outlets with vantage points that have never been experienced before.

He added: “We have the Deck at Two and Horizon 360, completely new perspectives, we’ve never used that part of the track. No one has ever got that perspective of the race. Imagine the start of the race, all 20 cars are coming around for the first time, all close to each other, everyone trying to get the optimal line through Turn 2, setting themselves up for Turn 5 at the hairpin.

“We launched the West Straight Grandstand. We added some hospitality products as well. We’re listening to what the customers want; they want more hospitality. They want more grandstands. They want unique, branded F and B (food and beverage) and hospitality experiences, and we’ve added a lot this year.”

Among 15 of those branded experiences are Hakkasan, Nobu, Roka, Ce La Vi, Opa, and The Maine.

“We sold out very quickly of most of our products, and we’re starting to think about what we need to do for 2024 to meet this demand.”

Al-Noaimi noted that Yas Marina Circuit had increasingly seen a rise in fans coming from abroad, particularly Europe.

He said: “At the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we had 140,000 attendees over the entire weekend. And if you break down that list of attendees, over 70 percent of them were coming from outside the UAE, which demonstrates the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is truly a global event.

“It’s bringing in, from a tourism point of view, a significant number of visitors to Abu Dhabi, into the UAE. And out of that 70 percent, over 80 percent of them stayed four nights or more in the UAE. So, from a macroeconomic impact, that’s significant.

“We’re definitely seeing the international numbers grow. There are a lot of European fans that travel to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. We have a big contingent of Dutch fans supporting Max Verstappen, but from all over Europe, as well.”

Ethara was launched in May and since then Yas Island has hosted the NBA Abu Dhabi Games for the second year running, as well as UFC 294, and the World Supercross Abu Dhabi GP.

“We brought in the teams that used to look after Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management and Flash Entertainment under one structure and one management.

“We have an amazing team of over 300 seasoned experts in the event and venue management space,” Al-Noaimi added.

He pointed out the growing importance of sustainability in shaping Yas Marina Circuit.

“We put in place a strategy, a sustainability strategy back in 2020 and we’re well underway on its execution. Last year we saw the most sustainable Grand Prix we have ever delivered.

“We received the FIA Three-Star certification for sustainability in 2021, which is the highest level of accreditation, the first circuit in the region to achieve that.”

Evidence of that is the solar panel farm located adjacent to the track ahead of Turn 5.

Al-Noaimi said: “For 2023, we’re adding to what we’ve done in previous years. We’ve just converted all our track lights to LED, so we’ve reduced our requirements of electrical power.

“Additionally, we’ve just completed the building of one megawatt of solar power at Yas Marina Circuit. That one megawatt is going to fulfil 30 percent of our power requirements throughout the year.

“And we have clear objectives for 2030 and 2040, with reductions of our carbon footprint. And every year we will have more and more initiatives.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend will also take a glimpse into the future of regional drivers when the young stars of Yas Heat Racing Academy take to the track.

“We’re really proud of the members of the team that have participated so far. This year, we’re really excited about the trophy race, support race for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Formula 4 UAE, we are going to have several members of Yas Heat participating.

“We have the return of Hamda and Amna Al-Qubaisi to Yas Heat. We have Rashid Al-Dhaheri. He was below the minimum age last year and it’s the first time he’s going to participate in Formula 4 UAE and race at his home Grand Prix, we’re really excited about that,” Al-Noaimi added.

Other talented drivers taking part are Keanu Al-Azhari, Zack Scoular, and Harry Hannam.

“We’re really proud to have this platform to show the capabilities and the development of young UAE nationals and residents in the single-seater space.

“And for 2024, we’ve already announced that we will be hosting F1 Academy at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which is the female-only championship. It will form one of the support races in 2024 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix,” Al-Noaimi said.

Jota seals top spot for Al-Ittihad in AFC Champions League’s Group C

Updated 05 December 2023

Jota seals top spot for Al-Ittihad in AFC Champions League’s Group C

  • Jota's contribution means Tigers finish group with five wins and one defeat and can look forward to knockout stages

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad took top spot in Group C in the Asian Champions League on Monday following a 2-1 win over Sepahan in Jeddah.

It marked a third straight victory for new coach Marcelo Gallardo and, more importantly, the return to action after a lengthy injury for center-back Ahmed Hegazi, although Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante are still struggling with injuries.

It proved a rewarding night for the 2004 and 2005 champions, although the game was far from easy against a strong Sepahan side.

The early stages went according to plan for the hosts, though, and in the 14th minute Saleh Al-Amri scored in spectacular fashion. He lined up a free-kick just outside the penalty area before curling the ball home into the corner of the net.

Fabinho then had the chance to extend the lead but his header was off target.

There was nothing wrong with the header from Sepahan’s Ramin Rezaeian three minutes after the restart, though. Mohammad Daneshgar’s long ball from the left side found the forward free at the back post and his header bounced once before ending up high in the top corner of the net beyond Abdullah Al-Mayouf, who was in goal in place of usual No. 1 Marcelo Grohe.

The experienced goalkeeper had an impressive game and made a number of vital saves against opponents who enjoyed more possession and had more attempts on goal than the hosts.

It was left to Jota to settle the tie midway through the second half with his first goal in the Asian competition. After a slow and patient buildup from the back, Abderrazak Hamdallah picked up possession just outside the Iranians’ area and slipped the ball through for the Portuguese winger to stab home the winner.

Rezaeian almost earned the visitors a share of the spoils with a late free-kick but Al-Mayouf saved to give Ittihad and their new Argentine coach another win.

It means that the Tigers finish the group with five wins and one defeat and can look forward to the knockout stages, which start in 2024, with confidence.

It also means that, following a league game against Damac on Thursday, Ittihad can focus on the FIFA Club World Cup in Jeddah and an opening game against Oceania champions Auckland City. Gallardo will be hoping that the likes of Benzema and Kante can return to fitness in time for the tournament.

But, for now, Ittihad are on the winning track.

Al-Hilal look good in AFC Champions League after another victory

Updated 04 December 2023

Al-Hilal look good in AFC Champions League after another victory

  • A 2-1 win over Nassaji Mazandaran ensures top spot in Group D
  • Jorge Jesus’ men are looking unstoppable at the moment, even when they rest top-class international players such as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

Al-Hilal made sure of top spot in Group D of the AFC Champions League on Monday with a 2-1 win over Nassaji Mazandaran.

Goals in each half from Michael and Salem Al-Dawsari proved enough to defeat the Iranians and for Al-Hilal to progress to the second round unbeaten and in fine form with 15 wins from the last 15 in all competitions.

Jorge Jesus’ men are looking unstoppable at the moment, even when they rest top-class international players such as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

Both of those players scored in last Friday’s 3-0 win over Al-Nassr in the Riyadh derby, and Al-Hilal carried on from where they had left off, scoring this time after just four minutes.

Mohammed Al-Breik collected the ball on the left side of the area and rolled it across the six-yard box. It evaded everyone but Michael who was there at the far post to blast home from close range.

The Blues continued to push forward and Saud Abdulhamid, Al-Breik, and Saleh Al-Shehri — given a rare start by his coach after his recent heroics for the national team — all had attempts on goal.

Home fans may have expected their side to stroll to victory but, while dominating possession, they were made to work for the second goal.

They thought they had it just before the half hour when Abdullah Al-Hamdan broke free of the defense, but his low shot was well saved by Hossein Khatir. That was not the end of the danger either, as the ball bounced off Amir Houshmand and headed toward goal before the goalkeeper clawed it off the line.

The visitors, who had already been eliminated, had not looked too dangerous going forward, but that changed just before the break. Hossein Zamehran took a free-kick from the right and Mahmoud Rahmati stooped to send a perfect low header toward the opposite corner, Yassine Bounou getting down quickly to make a fine diving save.

Al-Hilal grabbed a second goal early in the second half. Al-Hamdan lifted a pass over the defense for Al-Dawsari who, under pressure from defenders, pushed the ball past the goalkeeper.

It all looked too easy, and with 13 minutes remaining, the Iranians pulled one back through Rahmati. Kalidou Koulibaly headed away a cross but it fell to the forward who volleyed high into the net to give Bounou no chance.

That was it as far as goals were concerned, but there looks to be much more to come in the AFC Champions League for Al-Hilal.

ECB launch cricket regulator to tackle discrimination 

Updated 04 December 2023

ECB launch cricket regulator to tackle discrimination 

  • The regulator will be monitoring compliance with the game’s regulations, anti-corruption, anti-doping and anti-discrimination 
  • It comes two years after racism scandal centered around treatment of Pakistan-born bowler Azeem Rafiq damned England cricket 

London: The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Monday announced it had set up an independent cricket regulator after a damning report revealed racism, sexism, classism and elitism in the sport. 

The Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket (ICEC) published its findings in June, revealing “widespread” discrimination in the game and making 44 recommendations. 

The ICEC was established in 2021 following a racism scandal centered around the treatment of Pakistan-born bowler Azeem Rafiq at Yorkshire County Cricket Club. 

The new regulator will be responsible for monitoring compliance with the game’s regulations, safeguarding, anti-corruption, anti-doping and anti-discrimination. 

The body will be headed by former police officer Dave Lewis, taking the role of interim director, and will be overseen by an independent cricket regulatory board. 

ECB chief executive Richard Gould welcomed the changes, stating: “It is important that the game has the best processes in place in order to enforce regulations. 

“The ICEC report recommended that we introduce further independence to the game’s regulatory process and the cricket regulator overseen by an independent cricket regulatory board will do that. 

“The cricket regulator is ring-fenced from the ECB, and that separation will ensure that their work is distinct from our work as the game’s promoter.” 

Saudi Games 2023: Day 11 crowns champions in beach soccer, fencing

Updated 04 December 2023

Saudi Games 2023: Day 11 crowns champions in beach soccer, fencing

  • In the men’s foil category, Ibrahim Al-Hodaib from Al-Nassr Club secured the gold medal, while Ali Al-Albinali from Al-Hilal claimed silver
  • The women’s individual saber finals saw Al-Shabab’s Ruba Al-Masri taking the gold, with Al-Hilal’s Alhasna Al-Hammad getting the silver

RIYADH: The champions of the fencing competition held at the Riyadh Club on Sunday were honored by Abdulaziz Baeshen, executive director of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and Ahmed Al-Sabban, president of the Saudi Fencing Federation.

In the men’s foil category, Ibrahim Al-Hodaib from Al-Nassr Club secured the gold medal, while Ali Al-Albinali from Al-Hilal claimed silver. Bronze medals were awarded to Al-Huda’s Mohsen Al-Shatti and Mahdi Al-Qaros.

The women’s individual saber finals saw Al-Shabab’s Ruba Al-Masri taking the gold, with Al-Hilal’s Alhasna Al-Hammad earning the silver. Bronze medals were awarded to Al-Hilal’s Ahad Al-Muahmmar and Al-Shabab’s Dana Al-Qahtani.

The Saudi Games 2023 volunteer coordinator, Ahlam Qadah, reported the participation of more than 1,460 volunteers in this year’s edition.

Volunteers, selected based on specific criteria, were assigned to 31 different competition venues across the Kingdom. Predominantly university students specializing in law, public relations, administration, computing, and medicine, the volunteers demonstrated a strong interest in sports and related activities.

Al-Masheal Crowns Al-Selmeyya with Gold in Beach Soccer Finals

Saudi Football Federation President Yasser Al-Misehal awarded Al-Selmeyya with the gold medal in beach soccer. Al-Selmeyya beat Al-Nassr 3-2 while Al-Jandal secured the bronze medal by defeating Al-Zulfi 4-3 during the finals.

Indoor Women’s Futsal Final Between Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab

The women’s football semifinals on Sunday saw Al-Nassr defeated Al-Hilal with a final score of 2-1, while Al-Shabab overcame Al-Qadisiyah 8-1.
The final match between Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab is scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. local time. It will be held at Al-Nassr Club, preceded by a third-place match between Al-Hilal and Al-Qadisiyah at 3 p.m.

Men’s Basketball Semifinals Set

Al-Hilal secured a spot in the basketball semifinals after defeating Al-Fateh 91-52 in the quarterfinals held on Sunday at the Green Hall of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex. Al-Nassr beat Al-Safa 74-63 in a close bout, while Al-Ahli edged out Al-Ittihad 64-60. Tuesday’s semifinals will see Al-Hilal face Al-Ahli and Al-Nassr play Ohud.

Women’s Basketball Quarterfinals Kick Off

The women’s basketball quarterfinals began on Monday at the Green Hall of Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex. Defending champions Jeddah United faced Al-Qadisiyah at 2 p.m., Al-Ittihad vs. Al-Nassr at 4 p.m., Al-Hilal vs. Al-Ahli at 6 p.m., and Al-Nawras vs. Al-Asima at 8 p.m.

Youth and Women’s Fencing Champions

In the youth category, Al-Adalah’s Jehad Al-Obaid won the men’s saber gold medal, while Al-Omran’s Ali Saeed Al-Hashem claimed silver. Al-Adalah’s Ahmed Al-Omran and Al-Watani’s Abdulsalam Turk Al-Anazi secured the bronze medals. In the women's epee, gold was awarded to Al-Huda’s Lamar Arslan after defeating teammate Wateen Al-Toukhy, who took silver. Hala Khaled Khadawardi of Al-Ittihad and Yassmin Al-Saleh of Al-Nassr claimed bronze.

Karate Concludes with 11 Weight Categories

The karate competition concluded on Monday at King Saud University, featuring finals in the women’s open weight category and the men’s 60 kg, 67 kg, 75 kg, 84 kg, and over 84 kg divisions. The youth women’s open weight finals will begin alongside the youth men’s 55 kg, 61 kg, 68 kg, and 76 kg finals.

Muay Thai Concludes Competitions

The muay thai finals were held on Monday at King Saud University. Ghadah Al-Shehri faced Haytan Al-Saif in the women’s 54 kg final, while Ahmed Rosli is expected to compete against Khalid Al-Dawalibi for the men’s 57 kg gold. Abdullah Al-Kahtani and Othmane Essaadaoui will compete for the 63.5 kg gold, concluding with Abdulrahman Bajaba vs. Soufiane Marzak in the 75 kg category.

Handball Youth Matches Continue

King Saud University sports arena will see the third group of handball youth matches take place on Monday. Sunday’s matches saw Al-Ibtisam beat Al-Safa 31-22. Al-Ahli surpass Al-Qarah 30-22 and Mudhar overcome Al-Hilal 34-18. Monday’s group A matches will feature Al-Wehda vs. Al-Hazem and Al-Huda vs. Al-Noor.

Four Matches in Men’s Handball

In men’s handball events, Al-Ahli defeated Al-Rawdah 30-26, Al-Huda overcame Al-Hazem 36-20 and Al-Wehda surpassed Al-Adalah 34-32. Four matches are scheduled on Monday: Mudhar vs. Al-Zulfi and Al-Jeel vs. Al-Qarah in Group A, and Al-Khaleej vs. Al-Muheet and Al-Njoom vs. Al-Safa in Group B.

Legends Maldini, Villa say ‘passion’ key to Saudi football’s ‘rapid development’ ahead of FIFA Club World Cup

Updated 04 December 2023

Legends Maldini, Villa say ‘passion’ key to Saudi football’s ‘rapid development’ ahead of FIFA Club World Cup

  • Former CWC champions Paolo Maldini and David Villa are in Jeddah this week as the Red Sea coastal city counts down to hosting the competition

LONDON: The “passion” of Saudi Arabia’s football-obsessed fans during this month’s FIFA Club World Cup in the Kingdom will set it up to host even bigger events in the future, two legends of the game said on Monday.

Former CWC champions Paolo Maldini and David Villa are in Jeddah this week as the Red Sea coastal city counts down to hosting the competition.

Both men have enjoyed glittering careers, including winning the tournament in 2007 (Maldini with AC Milan) and 2011 (Villa with Barcelona) respectively.

Now regular visitors to Saudi Arabia, the two shared their thoughts on the Kingdom’s growing stature and influence within global football.


“Hosting a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is a big challenge,” Maldini said. “FIFA is very strict when it comes to the terms of organizing a tournament, but with the passion here (in Saudi Arabia), I think they will find what they are looking for,” he said.

“I’ve been to Saudi Arabia several times. The first time was 30 years ago, and there are lots of changes since then. Saudis love football — this has been known for years, and I’ve experienced it personally. We have a goal to make this tournament one of the most important tournaments in the world, and this is achievable due to the passionate fans here.”

Villa echoed the sentiment: “I’ve visited Saudi Arabia four times in the last year — the passion for football is real here. Saudis have such a strong passion for football, not only locally but globally, too.

“To host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is very important to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi League is developing rapidly, and Saudi football is progressing very well. There is also a huge affection for football here.

“Football should always be for the fans, those who are passionate and want to watch the games. That’s why it’s crucial and important for Saudi Arabia to host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup,” he said.

The tournament, which kicks off in Jeddah on Dec. 12, will see the champions of the six continental federations clash for the right to be called club champion of the world.

Manchester City, Fluminense of Brazil, Egyptian giants Al-Ahly, Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds, Mexican side Club Leon and Auckland City will be joined by Jeddah’s own Al-Ittihad, who qualify as domestic champions of the host nation.