• Hani Naqshabandi: “We Saudis are not greatly different from anyone else, in money or knowledge or health. Poverty has no homeland, for it thrives in every country, ignorance exists here as it does everywhere else, and health problems that others have elsewhere are also found here. We might be better than others at some things, but they are also better than us at others, but no one is “better”, in an absolute sense, than anyone else.”
  • Popular Mechanics correctly notes that King Fahd International Airport in Dammam is the the largest airport in the world in terms of landmass. It is so enormous that it is actually about 28.5 square kilometers larger than Bahrain. What they fail to mention though is that it’s so empty most of the time it feels more like a ghost town than an international airport. The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) is rarely in the news, but it’s actually one of the worst performing government departments. (via jb)
  • Speaking of ghost towns, Nathan Deuel writes about life inside the DQ. Few weeks ago I wanted to visit Nathan’s wife Kelly at their house in Riyadh and he had to come pick me up at the checkpoint at the DQ entrance. He wrote about it here.
  • How do KAUST students entertain themselvesUPDATE: After speaking with the video owner, I decided to remove it because it might compromise her safety. She did not ask me to remove it, but I thought it would be better for everyone. Sorry.
  • Jeddah United basketball team has joined efforts with automobile distributor Haji Husein Alireza & Co. Ltd. to launch Khobar United, the first of its kind women’s sports organization in the EP. When I visited Jeddah two years ago I had a chance to attend a kids tournament organized by Jeddah United where I also met the team’s captain Lina al-Maeena. Sports in girls’ schools is still being debated, but what these guys have been doing is really impressive.

Resign

In decent, civilized countries, when officials who come with big promises fail to deliver, they resign (or are forced to resign) out of respect for themselves, the people, and the office.

In my country, when officials who come with big promises fail to deliver, they give the middle finger to everyone, silence anyone who dares to criticize them, and shamelessly stay in their positions as if nothing happened.

Norah and Adela

Norah al-Faiz says she has been misquoted. She does not say she was misquoted on what exactly: her Najdi niqab, introducing sports to girls schools, that she can’t appear on TV without permission, or the news that she started her talk with the reporters by saying “ya mama…” Alas, she said she will no longer speak to the press directly and will conduct all her interviews from now on via fax or email. I hope the new approach of the deputy minister would stop her from uttering nonsense like that she is more influential than Barack Obama. Al-Faiz has retracted her statements about introducing sports to girls schools, saying she is not against it and that “an integrated plan is being worked out to introduce PE in girls schools.” This actually could be true, not necessarily because al-Faiz said so but because someone who is far more influential than her is pushing for it.

Princess Adela bint Abdullah, the King’s daughter, told al-Riyadh daily yesterday that “it’s high time to look into the matter of introducing sports at girls schools seriously, following the teachings of Islam.” Princess Adela does not work in the government, but she is married to the minister of education. A friend of mine who met the princess says she is offering a new image for the women of the royal family. She is highly-motivated and very determined, and she is playing an increasingly assertive role in public life here. Since she is standing behind this, I think that female students might start enjoying their sports classes when the new school year begins this fall.

Dirty Games

I never liked the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF). Not just because of their lame policy of erratically and irrationally sacking one coach after another, but also because the overall performance of our sports teams is simply not comparable to the talent pool we have in this country. I can’t think of any reason for this situation other than mismanagement of resources available at the disposal of this federation.

A long running saga of SAFF involves building a new football stadium in Jeddah. The current Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium in the coastal city was built in 1980. I could not find any solid numbers regarding the stadium’s capacity, but Google thinks it’s somewhere between 25,000-35,000 spectators, which is considered medium by today’s standards. Jeddah is the home of two major football clubs in Saudi Arabia, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli, which means a large number of matches is played on the stadium every year. Add to that poor maintenance and lack of any renovation effort and you get an outdated, ugly mess.

Rumors about the new Jeddah stadium, expected to be named after Crown Prince King Abdullah, have been circulating for, I don’t know, like the past ten years or so. SAFF claim that they have all plans ready for the new stadium but they are waiting for the Ministry of Finance to allocate the needed money for the project. SAFF have been blaming MOF for taking such a long time to approve the budget of the project and allocate the money.

However, if what Arreyadi sports newspaper has reported today is true, then I don’t blame MOF for putting the plans on hold. The newspaper cited sources at MOF saying the delay in approving the plans is based on their conviction that the estimated budget by SAFF is quite exaggerated. SAFF say they will need SR 10 billion to build the new stadium.

For the sake of comparison, the construction cost of the Emirates Stadium, one of Europe’s newest and most expensive football venues, is £430 million (~ SR 3 billion). Why SAFF are asking for this exorbitant amount of money when they actually need just a fraction of it remains a mystery, unless we get a chance to see their plans for the new stadium, which better include some architectural miracles and never-seen-before technologies to justify this huge budget.

I understand that Arreyadi is not very friendly toward SAFF for reasons beyond the scoop of this blog post, but even if their report is not accurate, it nevertheless sheds the light on an important issue that has been long overlooked. Saudi Arabia have not built any new football stadiums since the opening of King Fahad International Stadium in Riyadh in 1989.

Thank You Sami

sami

The official website of Sami al-Jaber has announced that the footballer has finally decided to retire, concluding a great career that lasted about 20 years in the beautiful game. The announcement was expected since the end of last season, in which al-Jaber has minimally contributed to his club al-Hilal who finished second in the race for the Saudi league title.

There is no doubt that Sami is one of the best footballers Saudi Arabia has ever had, and his career on the international and club levels is simply incomparable. He captained al-Hilal to win many trophies over the years, and the way he led the national team on their journey to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals won’t be easily forgotten. His fans and Saudi sports media have given him many nicknames such as Sam 6, the Wolf, Samio, the Poisonous and Mr. Goal.

But despite his achievements and excellence, al-Jaber has come under some sever attacks in the media during different stages of his career. Many of these attacks were unjustified and unfair, in my opinion that is, but I guess being a big superstar like that has drawbacks that should be tolerated if one wants to go on with whatever he does. What he was doing is playing football and scoring goals, and he was very good at that. As for media wars and other stuff, that really should not matter, except for one thing that not many mention when they talk about him: in 2005, Sami was named Goodwill Ambassador for the UN; an honor no other footballer here has won.

Since he first joined al-Hilal as a teenager, Sami has become an indispensable part of the club and the national team. The highlights of his career are many, but playing in four consecutive World Cups is probably the most distinguished one. He is also one of the very few players who scored in three World Cups.

Being a big fan of Sami, I can go on and on talking about him for hours, but what I really want to say is simply this: I want to thank Sami for bringing joy and happiness to millions of football fans here in the Kingdom and around the world. You were great, we are proud of you, and we won’t forget you. Thank you Sami.

Al-Hilal Signs Huge Sponsorship Deal with Mobily

hilal_mobilyAl-Hilal is one the leading and well-known football clubs, not only in Saudi Arabia but in the Middle East and Asia. The Riyadh-based club have announced yesterday that they have reached an agreement for a sponsorship deal with Mobily, the country’s second telecommunication company.

Now this kind of sponsorship deals is common place for football clubs all over the world, and clubs here have been involved in similar deals for years. But what makes this deal special is the large scale that is unprecedented in the region. According to al-Hilal’s official website, Mobily agreed to pay SR 200 million over the next five years to associate their brand with the team.

Few details are available at the moment, but the club’s website says that al-Hilal will host a press conference following the official signing ceremony. This deal should be good for al-Hilal and for Saudi football in general, and I predict that more clubs will be looking for deals like this one in order to cover their increasing expenditure.