MENA Sports Wrap: Saudi Arabia enters the snooker world but no 'golden ball' winner

MENA Sports Wrap: Saudi Arabia enters the snooker world but no 'golden ball' winner
A weekly round up of all the top sports stories from the Middle East and North Africa, featuring the first Iranian woman to officiate a men's match.
5 min read
08 March, 2024
Saudi Arabia has made two new forrays into the world of sport [Getty]

Saudi Arabia hosts first major snooker tournament

In an almost fairy tale end to Saudi Arabia's first major snooker tournament, Ronnie O'Sullivan clinched the World Masters of Snooker championship in Riyadh on Thursday.

The English player thrashed Belgian competitor Luca Brecel 5-2 in the final, having already seen off Judd Trump in the semi-finals, to pick up a £250,000 prize.

However, he failed to pot the 'golden ball,' a special feature introduced for the Saudi tournament, which could have earned him an additional £390,000.

The 'golden ball' was intended to be added to a game if any snooker player cleared the table with a top score of 147.

Saudi snooker authorities say that next year, the prize money for potting the golden ball will be doubled to nearly £800,000.

Saudi head of the General Authority for Entertainment, Turki Al-Alsheikh, said: "Hello everybody. Today in this competition, no one got the golden ball. For that, for the next competition, we will double it for $ 1million (£790,000).

"And second thing. In Saudi Arabia, we are honoured to discuss with O'Sullivan to have an academy by his name in Saudi Arabia."

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This marks a deepening of Saudi involvement in the sport, having already announced the launch of the Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters in August and September - a fourth crown event - in addition to the annual Riyadh Seasons World Masters of Snooker Tournament.

O'Sullivan is a legend in snooker, universally considered to be the greatest player in the sport with a huge following and a fiery past with the snooker establishment.

Tehran derby will feature first woman referee to officiate men's football match

In a groundbreaking move for Iranian sports, Mahsa Ghorbani has been named as one the video assistant referee (VAR) officials for next week’s highly anticipated Tehran derby, marking a significant milestone as she becomes the first-ever Iranian woman to officiate in a men’s match.

Khodadad Afsharian, the head of Iran football league referees' committee, confirmed this historic appointment, marking what many within Iran consider to be a momentous progressive shift in the realm of Iranian football.

The match, between arch-rivals Persepolis and Esteghlal, will take place at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on 13 March.

Though Ghorbani’s first job officiating in the Persian Gulf Pro League will be a baptism of fire, with such a fiercely contested rivalry, she has a breadth of experience as a referee, taking charge of matches at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup and the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Ghorbani’s inclusion in such a high-profile domestic match marks a significant milestone in women’s participation in sports in Iran, with it being seen as the breaking down of one of the barriers that have hindered women from taking part in sports on all levels.

This comes as an informal ban on women attending sporting events was partially lifted by the Iranian regime last year, though restrictions still remain.

Over the past four decades, Iranian authorities have banned girls and women from watching football and other sports in stadiums.

While this ban is not law, authorities regularly enforced it, claiming lack of proper infrastructure to segregate men and women. The ban has led to arrests, beatings, detention, and abuses against women and adolescent girls.

Baseball United to bring professional baseball to Saudi Arabia

Baseball United has signed an agreement that gives it an unlimited term to host its professional league and tournaments in Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing a source close to the matter.

The partnership between Baseball United, the first professional baseball league focused on the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, and the Saudi Baseball and Softball Federation (SBSF) is expected to be officially announced this week.

It marks the first time professional baseball will be brought to Saudi Arabia.

The partnership also includes rights to new Baseball United franchises representing Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam – three of the kingdom's largest cities.

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"Saudi Arabia is setting the pace for sports development, investment, and growth in the Kingdom and beyond, and we are truly honoured to now include baseball within those ambitious plans," Baseball United CEO Kash Shaikh said in a copy of the press release obtained by Reuters.

"This agreement significantly elevates Baseball United's standing and footprint within the region, and, just as importantly, enables us to work at the grassroots level to help grow the game in the Middle East's largest country."

As part of the agreement, Baseball United will open a subsidiary in Saudi Arabia and partner with the SBSF to develop baseball in the Kingdom.

The SBSF, which was formed in 2019, will also partner with Baseball United to develop the national team with the aim of competing in upcoming World Baseball Softball Confederation tournaments.

Baseball United began play in Dubai last November with its All-Star Showcase, the first professional baseball game in the history of the region.

The league is scheduled to announce its 2024 gameplay plans as well as its Saudi expansion franchises later this year.

Irish team to host Palestinian women ahead of Nakba anniversary

The Ireland-based Bohemian Football Club team will play the Palestinian ladies in a friendly tournament to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, as Israel's deadly war in Gaza continues.

The match will take place in Dublin’s Dalymount Park stadium on 15 May.

The Nakba, meaning 'catastrophe' in Arabic, refers to the ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of Palestinians in 1948, which facilitated the creation of the State of Israel

According to the club, the upcoming fixture will be the first two, with the second due to be played in the Palestinian territories in a bid to highlight the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where Israel has waged an indiscriminate military campaign for over five months, killing over 30,000 people.

The club also confirmed that proceeds from the upcoming friendly will be used to support the visit of the Palestinian women’s team, as well as contribute towards relief funds.

Ireland has rallied behind the Palestinian cause over the decades due to shared experiences of colonialism and occupation.