Mon. Sep 25th, 2023
JEDDAH: The Jeddah Superdome could not contain the pandemonium and excitement expressed by more than 13,000 WWE fans. The Night of Champions had fans hanging from the rafters and provided excitement from bell to bell.
The evening showcased superstars such as AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Trish Stratus, and others who kept fans out of their seats throughout.
The premium live event showcased WWE’s commitment to its partnership with the General Entertainment Authority to provide sports entertainment. This was the ninth event of the partnership.
WWE has also taken its offering to the world and plans to visit more destinations to spread the word.
Stratus, who is in the WWE Hall of Fame, said: “(It’s) an absolute dream come true, honestly, coming back at this point in my career.
“I was excited to come back, to do my matches and interact with the different talents that I did not have a chance to interact with before, but to do special things like this and come over to the Kingdom, and be welcomed so warmly by the Kingdom, has been wonderful.
“I’ve had a great trip so far, and honestly, I look forward to coming back again, whenever.”
It was an evening of fireworks, indoors and outside, and thousands of people shouting and chanting the names of their favorite wrestlers.
People stood on their seats, holding up signs to cheer on their champions. Some were supportive; others mocking. There were even children in the front row.
Susan Bhatia, from England, who has been living in the Kingdom for over 30 years, went to the event with her daughter and said: “I have attended many WWE events in Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Orlando, but today it is my first time here in Jeddah.”
Dhari Al-Rashed, a 33-year-old journalist from Kuwait, told Arab News that he attended to see his favorite stars.
He said: “I am here to see my idol, Trish Stratus. She’s the female wrestler who was coming out of retirement for just one match today.”
He added that he had attended WWE showdowns for years and his first time was back in 2004 in Houston, Texas.
British fan Sam Waddington, a big fan of Triple H (Paul Michael Levesque) since the age of 10, told Arab News it was the first time he had attended a WWE event in Saudi Arabia.
He added: “I’m also a big fan of Trish Stratus.”
Yousif Al-Mizyan, a fan from the Kingdom who attended with his family, said: “I was so thrilled once I saw the event was coming to Saudi Arabia. I am a fan of Reigns.”
For many, it is difficult to imagine living with Down syndrome, its challenges as well as its beauties, but “Mighty Penguins” is a film that achieves exactly that.
It gives you a glimpse into such a world and what we find is one filled with passion, love and emotional intelligence, but also complicated by hardships and prejudice.
This weekend, the film sees its premiere at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Using the story of the Brentford Penguins, a football team in West London for children with Down syndrome, “Mighty Penguins” challenges our preconceptions of the condition.
It is a film I co-directed and co-produced — It Was All a Dream Productions — with Louis Myles, a British-Irish filmmaker from Fever Media, who recently won the coveted Best Documentary award at the AIPS Awards. “Mighty Penguins” is part of a series produced by John Skipper’s Meadowlark Media and Firelight Media, titled “Sports Explains the World.”
By taking you in to the world through the lens of a child with Down syndrome, “Mighty Penguins” allows you to explore life free of the prejudices that come with adulthood. The film is filled with laughs and tears as the emotional human story is told.
Affectionately titled the Brentford Penguins, the soccer team for children with Down syndrome was created by Allan Cockram, a former professional footballer for Brentford Football Club.
Allan was a Jack the Lad-type footballer in the 1980s. Brentford FC’s supporters all related to his down-to-earth shenanigans and adored him. Famed for his mullet, or “flowing locks” as he lovingly refers to his formerly long hair, Allan struggled after retiring from the sport. The income for footballers in the lower English leagues at the time was not the best, he found himself working as a taxi driver and searching for a purpose.
It was only until Phil, a young child with Down syndrome, became a regular pick-up for Allan did he find inspiration once again. The brutal honesty of Phil and pure love toward others moved Allan, and they often found themselves playing football in the park. But Phil sadly passed away, still a high school teenager, affecting Allan deeply. However, it was this heart-breaking death that motivated the birth of the Brentford Penguins.
The team meets every Sunday morning, come rain or shine for training sessions at Gunnersbury Park, London. What the film shows is that this is no ordinary football team, but more a family. You are taken to see these weekly training sessions through a cinema verite-style lens, as well as an intimate look into the lives of three of the children, Special K, Captain Charlie and Peanut.
The film follows the team as they prepare for their moment in the spotlight at an English Premier League match. They are tasked with being guard of honor for Brentford versus Leicester at the G-Tech Community Stadium. Although seen as a small gesture of goodwill by many, the moment means so much more for the Penguins. It represents a flourishing community being welcomed into wider society.
Despite being made up of players who are sometimes not included in mainstream events, the team discovers a community built around football for itself. Led by Allan, who we discover has had to struggle with his own demons but thrives as a Pied Piper character to the Penguins, the team together build their own support system as they show how football transcends mere entertainment.
There have been plenty of stories that show how sport can impact wider society. The Iraqi men’s 2007 Asia Cup football victory managed to put a pause on the civil war ravaging the country, for example. Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup helping quash Islamophobia across the globe, is another. The Brentford Penguins really have managed to shape their own story too.
Underpinning the film is the importance of community and the battle against loneliness. This is what drives the narrative as those portrayed search for their own acceptance in life before eventually finding it.
Expectant parents often fear that their children could be born with Down syndrome, but Mighty Penguins shows how beautiful each of the children truly are. The crew fell in love with all the participants and the journey of getting to know the Brentford Penguins has been an emotional journey filled with laughs and tears, just as the film reflects. We will forever be part of the Penguin family.
The film is truly a must-watch.
Asian football has never seen anything like this.
Over the past decade or two, we have seen a number of the world’s best players make the move to Asia: Rivaldo signed for Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan, Alessandro del Piero for Sydney FC, Xavi for Al Sadd and Andres Iniesta for Vissel Kobe, to name just a few.
There was also the explosion in China in the mid-to-late 2010s that saw the likes of Oscar, Hulk and Carlos Tevez make the move east.
But the scale of what we are witnessing in Saudi Arabia is unlike anything we have seen before.
Quite aside from the impact within Saudi Arabia, the landmark signing of Karim Benzema along with other names such as N’Golo Kante and Sergio Busquets — and let’s not forget a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in all of this — has the potential to completely reshape the face of Asian football.
There are significant differences between what happened in the Chinese Super League and what is taking place in Saudi Pro League now. While the project in China had state backing, it was largely financed by private real estate developers and fell apart as soon as the ruling Chinese Communist Party party tried to cool the spending largesse. The project in Saudi Arabia, however, is directly linked to the country’s Vision 2030 agenda.
Just this week, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman outlined a new vision for sport in the country, and in particular football, with leading clubs to be privatized. The big four are all being taken over by the Public Investment Fund, and the annual revenue of the SPL will be increasing from $120 million to a staggering $480 million.
The sheer scale and ambition are unlike anything ever seen in Asian football, with the ultimate aim of having the SPL as one of the 10 best leagues worldwide.
What that means for Asian football could be seismic.
“The investment in Saudi domestic football is one of the pivotal moments in the (Asian Football Confederation),” James Kitching, former FIFA director and leading sports executive, told Arab News.
“It will drive viewership in Saudi football, and by extension, AFC competitions, as big names ply their trade in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, and other cities. It will increase competitiveness in men’s AFC club competitions, as other clubs strive to keep up and compete with the Saudi clubs, which many already struggle to do.
“Similarly, a new generation of Saudi youth will reap the benefits and will likely usher in a new era of success in AFC men’s youth competitions and consistent participation in youth World Cups.
“The knock-on effect will mean that other nations will need to invest heavily in their technical development and club professionalization to remain competitive, which in turn increases the levels of men’s football in Asia across the board.”
With three of the big four clubs — Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr — all due to participate in the AFC Champions League this coming season, the benefit for Asia’s premier club competition could be immediate.
That the AFC and its media partner Football Marketing Asia are about to go to market for the next commercial cycle for the revamped AFC club competitions is quite serendipitous. It should be an easy sell.
“Saudi Arabian club football is currently in the top three leagues in Asia; the outcome of this investment will balloon it into the stratosphere,” Kitching, also a former senior executive at the AFC, continued.
“Unlike the Chinese bubble, which burst, this is a long-term commitment into one of the biggest cultural institutions in the country — football. The level of investment is a message that Saudi Arabia is serious, and a force to be reckoned with.”
Yasser Al-Misehal, the president of the Kingdom’s football federation, who also sits on both the AFC and FIFA executive committees, is cognizant of the role his country has to play in the development of football across the continent.
“We know the role the league plays in our footballing footprint across Asia,” he told Arab News.
“We have strong partnerships, growing fan bases and of course player recruitment across the AFC. We see Asia as a key component for our future opportunities and ambitions, including football, commercial and investment.
“Football is our country’s favorite sporting passion, and we are working hard to inspire even more to enjoy the beautiful game. This includes investments at all levels, on pitch and off, to provide access for all and even greater opportunity. 
“Whether it’s player signings, club ownership or grassroots investments, these recent announcements reflect our country’s ambition to put sport at the heart of everyday life in Saudi Arabia.”
The scale of the investment has raised eyebrows around the world, but for Kitching, increased investment in Asian club football, rather than Europe, is long overdue and could herald a new era for Asian football.
“Saudi Arabia is leading the way, investing heavily in their domestic game, while the rest of the world, and particularly Asian money, is seeking to buy football clubs in Manchester, Milan, London, Rome, and anywhere else that permits private ownership,” the Adelaide-based Kitching said.
“A pillar of AFC policy should be to actively encourage and harness the Asian money being spent outside of Asia on football and seek to have that invested within Asian football — whether domestically, or in Asian club competitions, or both.
“There’s a giant pot of gold that leaves Asia on an annual basis and props up a chunk of European football — leveraging that investment to pay the best players, invest in the best development, and generate the most media rights.
“That money should be spent in Asia.”
ABU DHABI: Manchester City and England’s Jack Grealish says it is a “dream” to be playing alongside his Manchester City teammates this season as the club aims to clinch its first UEFA Champions League title and complete a historic treble.
Pep Guardiola’s team takes on Italian side Inter Milan in Saturday’s showpiece finale in Istanbul, knowing a win in Europe’s elite club competition would end a remarkable season following Premier League and FA Cup triumphs.
England international Grealish is one of three players to have played in all 12 matches on the road to Turkey, creating 35 chances in the competition. The team goes into the crucial clash having scored 31 goals in Europe.
While the 27-year-old winger aims to contribute to adding to that tally this weekend, he says it has been a joy to play with high-caliber players and believes they can cause plenty of problems for Inter Milan given how strong they are at both ends of the pitch.
About being strong in attack and defense, he said: “It’s a bit of both. I think that’s why we’re on the brink of what we’re doing.
“Defensively, we have been brilliant, whether that be Manuel (Akanji), Nathan (Ake), Ruben (Dias), John (Stones). They have all been unbelievable. Especially Kyle (Walker) against Real Madrid was brilliant.
“Erling Haaland is another one who’s come into the squad and scored more than 50 goals. At both ends of the pitch, it’s been unbelievable, and it is a dream to play with this team.”
Despite their impressive season so far, Grealish admits his teammates will need to be at the top of their game if they are to overcome Inter Milan, a different task to what has been faced in domestic competition.
Grealish said: “It’s a different game to what we’ve faced (in the league and cup). We know the teams around us well, and we know how they’ll play. We’re seeing their players on international duty too, so we do know the teams at home more.
“I’m not sure if I have played against many of their players before,” he said of Inter. “But I love watching football, so I know their players and what strengths they have.”
SYDNEY: More than 1 million tickets have been sold for the Women’s World Cup kicking off in Australia and New Zealand next month, with soccer’s international governing body saying the tournament is on track to be the most attended standalone women’s sporting event in history.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino issued a statement saying 1,032,884 tickets had been sold up to Friday morning local time in Sydney, surpassing the pre-tournament sales for the 2019 edition in France.
Co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, the 2023 edition features an expanded field of 32 teams, up from 24 in France. There are 64 total matches during the tournament.
“Delighted to share with the world that FIFA has passed one million tickets sold,” Infantino said. “This means that with over one month to go before kick-off … 2023 is on track to become the most attended FIFA Women’s World Cup in history. The future is women — and thanks to the fans for supporting what will be the greatest FIFA Women’s World Cup ever!”
Total stadium attendance exceeded 1.35 million at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, when the number of participating teams had increased to 24 from 16 at the previous edition.
The tournament kicks off with New Zealand against 1995 champion Norway in Group A at Auckland’s Eden Park, followed by the Group B opener between Sam Kerr’s Australia lineup and Ireland at Stadium Australia, the main venue for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
TORONTO: Corey Conners shot a bogey-free 5-under 67 on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the RBC Canadian Open, the first PGA Tour event since its announcement of a merger with Saudi-backed LIV Golf.
Conners is seeking to become the tournament’s first Canadian winner in 69 years. Also at 67 were Aaron Rai, Justin Lower and Chesson Hadley.
Two-time defending champion Rory McIlroy opened with a 71 at Oakdale. Matt Fitzpatrick, who will seek to defend his US Open title next week at Los Angeles Country Club, was one of nine players at 68.
At No. 29 in the world, Conners is the highest-ranked of 21 Canadians in the field. The last homegrown winner of the event was Pat Fitzgerald in 1954 at Point Grey in Vancouver.
Conners did not speak to reporters after his morning round because he was dealing with an urgent personal matter. His two PGA Tour victories both came at the Valero Texas Open, including this year.
“Really disciplined off the tee, we didn’t try to do too much,” said Danny Sahl, Conners’ caddie. “But he had tons of fairways, missed maybe a couple in the first cut.
“Corey’s just tee-to-green hitting greens in regulation, made some good putts, just strong all around.”
Mike Weir in 2008 was the first Canadian to lead after the first round. The 53-year-old Weir shot 72 Thursday in his 30th Canadian Open appearance.
“I think he’s experienced enough to know that it’s so early, that it doesn’t really mean much yet,” Weir said of Conners. “He just wants to, I’m sure, just keep doing what he’s doing.”
Canadians Mackenzie Hughes, Taylor Pendrith and Roger Sloan were among the group at 3 under.
“You can’t win it on Thursday, but you can lose it,” Hughes said. “So definitely nice to be in a good spot after Thursday but it’s going to take four quite nice rounds and some steady golf.”
An air quality advisory was in effect due to wildfires across Ontario and Quebec that have led to postponements of sporting events in the northeastern United States. There was some rain during the afternoon, but play was never delayed.


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