MENA Sports Wrap: Saudi Arabia racks up a major snooker tournament

MENA Sports Wrap: Saudi Arabia racks up a major snooker tournament
MENA SPORTS WRAP: Saudi Arabia is about to host its own snooker masters championship with a staggering grand prize of $2 million.
4 min read
16 February, 2024
Saudi Arabia takes centre stage in this week's MENA Sports Wrap [Getty/TNA]

Saudi Arabia is centre stage for this week's MENA sports wrap, with an inside look into life for foreign Saudi Pro League footballers and the announcement of a new major snooker tournament in Riyadh.

The Kingdom to host 'quadruple' crown event.

Saudi Arabia will host the world's "fourth masters" this year after signing a ten-year deal with the World Snooker Tour (WTA), as the kingdom looks to build on a foray into the sport with another new tournament planned for March.

The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will be the country's first ranking snooker tournament with with a £2 million prize fund up for grabs, the second highest in world snooker, along with a nineball pool tournament later this year.

It will become the sport's fourth addition to the triple crown of the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters, a remarkable achievement given that Saudi Arabia has not yet hosted a major snooker tournament.

The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will take place between 31 August and 7 September in Riyadh with a pledge to attract some of the world's top players, with Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump used in branding.

Iran's Hossein Vafaei will also hopefully take part, giving the MENA region some representation.

"Saudi Arabia is an ever-emerging home to all sports and we’re excited by the opportunity to add new world-class events in snooker and Nineball pool to our growing year-round calendar," said Saudi Minister of Sport Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal in a statement.

"Hosting global events is all part of our strategy to grow all sports and to inspire our people to participate by giving them the chance to enjoy live sporting action. We are a young country with a young population and the approach is working."

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Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced it would host the Riyadh Season World Masters of Snooker in March, which will feature a 'golden ball' counting as 20 points.

This introduction of this additional ball to the game has been welcomed by some players, hoping to beat the traditional maximum break of 147, but snooker purists have rejected it as a glitzy innovation.

Saudi Arabia is hosting some of the world's biggest sporting events, including the Italian Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, and the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Riyadh says this is part of a plan to diversify its economy and provide entertainment opportunities for the young Saudi population, although critics accuse the government of "sportswashing" to deflect from its human rights record.

Inside the Saudi Pro League

Taylor Ward, wife of former Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez, has said she was “overwhelmed” after learning about her husband’s impending transfer to the Saudi Pro League.

Ward is seen speaking of Mahrez’s move to Saudi Arabia and their life in the kingdom in a preview of the upcoming Amazon Prime Video documentary ‘Married to the Game’, which focuses on the experiences of English Premier League players and their partners.

Mahrez moved to Saudi club Al-Ahli from Manchester City last July for £30 million. The French-born Algerian was part of the club’s summer splurge on Premier League talent, with him joining ex-Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino, former Newcastle United winger Allan Saint-Maximin and ex-Chelsea keeper Eduard Mendy in Jeddah. 

Footage of Mahrez breaking the news of his move to the Saudi club to Ward went viral. In the clip, Ward, worried about leaving her friends and family behind, said: "I’m going to sat here at home on my own." The treble winner bluntly responding, "It’s part of the game, innit."

Ward then says in the preview of the show: "It was a huge shock and I had absolutely no idea. One day we were planning for Riyad to go back to pre-season with City and then overnight we were moving to Saudi and I was planning this whole move."

"I think it was just very overwhelming at the time and a massive shock because I just didn't see it coming at all," she adds.

She did say she was "surprised" by life in Saudi Arabia, describing life in the Gulf country as "chilled" compared to her busy life in Manchester.

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"In Manchester, there's so much going on and we're always going out for dinner and seeing friends. That's probably what I'm missing the most, seeing family and friends rather than what the country is missing," she said.

"At the moment they're looking at relaxing these rules. From what I had heard, I was worried about that stuff when we first went, but it's surprised me. It's more relaxed from what I was first told."

While Saudi Arabia has relaxed strict social rules in recent years, it remains relatively conservative compared to many of its neighbours, which has reportedly played a role in the Saudi Pro League's bid to attract and retain top sports stars.

Former Liverpool star Jordan Henderson left Dammam side El-Ettifaq recently, after a gruelling six month spell at the club having to travel from the more socially liberal Bahrain - where is family was based - t0 the Saudi east coast for training and games.