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7 Saudi sporting highlights of 2020



Graeme McDowell storms to victory in Saudi International

January saw Graeme McDowell win the second edition of the Saudi International at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

The Northern Irishman hit a fourth round 70 to beat the 2019 champion Dustin Johnson by two strokes and claim his 16th European Tour win.

“It’s my first time in Saudi Arabia and the set-up of the course was magnificent,” McDowell said. “It’s been a brilliant event and can’t wait to return next year.”

Inaugural Saudi Cup makes history

The inaugural Saudi Cup at King Abdulaziz Racetrack was historic for several reasons. With total prize money of $20 million, it became the most valuable horse race in the world, surpassing the Dubai World Cup, which had held the record with $12 million.

On Feb. 29 one of the pre-race favorites, American horse Maximum Security, claimed first prize of $10 million while Midnight Bisou came in second to collect $3.5 million and Godolphin’s Benbatl secured $2 million in third.

Significantly, the previous day was the first time female jockeys were allowed to race on Saudi soil.

While Mike Smith won the International Jockeys Challenge, it was Lisa Allpress of New Zealand who made history when she rode Matmon to victory in the first of the challenges.

The quote of the weekend came from female jockey Sibylle Vogt, who summed up the event perfectly after her own win: “My idol is Frankie Dettori and I’m so happy he was behind me.”

Sports for all during lockdown

As Saudi Arabia went into lockdown in March, the Sports for All (SFA) Federation sprang into action to ensure that the homebound population maintained a healthy physical and mental lifestyle.

Programs such as Baytak Nadeek (Your Home, Your Gym) and the Women’s Fitness Festival attracted thousands of participants through social media channels.

“I’m awestruck by the power of our healthy and active community, and I watch their Instagram stories daily,” said SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal.

Baytak Nadeek would go on to win best campaign in Saudi Arabia at the Middle East Public Relations Association awards, while Move to Donate claimed second place in the best sports and recreational campaign category.

Al-Hilal complete remarkable treble in delayed season

AFC Champions League holders Al-Hilal were already heading toward a record 16th Saudi Professional League (SPL) title when the coronavirus pandemic brought football and all global sporting competitions to a halt worldwide.

While the UAE domestic football season was canceled, the SPL was eventually restarted in early August behind closed doors.

Al-Hilal claimed the title on Aug. 30 after a 4-1 win over Al-Hazem ensured Al-Nassr could not catch Razvan Lucescu’s team at the top.

At the end of November, Al-Hilal added the 2019-20 King’s Cup after a 2-1 win over Al-Nassr in a much-delayed final.

“I repeat that this is an exceptional season for Al-Hilal. We dedicate this to all our fans who we continue to miss inside the stadiums,” Capt. Salman Al-Faraj said.

“We promised them that we’ll win the Asian Champions League, the league and the King’s Cup. We always said the same thing among ourselves and we kept our promise.”

Women’s Football League launches in KSA

Having been announced in late February, it was not until Nov. 17 that the first Saudi Women’s Football League (WFL) finally kicked off.

Despite the coronavirus-enforced delay, history was made with over 600 players and 24 teams taking part in the community-level competition.

The competition was launched by the Sports for All (SFA) Federation in partnership with the Ministry of Sports and took place across Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam as part of the Quality of Life program.

On Dec. 17, Challenge Riyadh defeated Jeddah Eagles to take home the Champions Cup and the prize money of SR150,000 ($39,975).

“This landmark moment in our country’s community-level sports history would not have been possible without the vision and forward trajectory laid out for us by His Majesty King Salman and HRH the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” said SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal.

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix added to 2021 Formula 1 season

Motorsports fans in the Middle East received an early holiday season present when it was announced that Saudi Arabia will in 2021 hold its inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah.

The proposed race on Jeddah’s Corniche makes Saudi Arabia the 33rd country to hold a Formula 1 race, and it is the third to take place in the Middle East after the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi events.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, set for Nov. 5, will become the second to be run at night after the Singapore race.

Women’s golf takes off in KSA

As a year of disruptions neared its end, a sense of normalcy returned with the holding of the inaugural $1 million Aramco Saudi Ladies International, presented by the Public Investment Fund.

At the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, Emily Kristine Pedersen of Denmark would ultimately win a playoff against England’s Georgia Hall to become the first-ever winner of a women’s golf tournament staged in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s really great to come here, and people have been so helpful and nice,” the winner said. “It’s been a great experience.”

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