Ranked 28th in the latest ICC T20I standings, Saudi Arabia is not a name that is synonymous with the game of cricket. However, that could all change if the latest push to promote cricket in the region can ignite the expected spark.
It is football that dominates the landscape of the Middle Eastern Empire, with five FIFA World Cup qualifications in the last seven editions confirming their status as giants of the Asian continent.
While football continues to flourish in Saudi Arabia, over the years several high-profile sporting events have taken place and athletes make their way to the kingdom. Under the overarching vision of the Vision 2030 masterplan, Saudi Arabia has recently hosted some of the biggest boxing, wrestling, tennis, golf and car-rallying events.
Later this year, the country will stage its first Formula One Grand Prix with a night race at the Jeddah Street Circuit.
As the pace of investment in various sports picks up, cricket in Saudi Arabia is poised for a renewed focus in the development of the sport. With a large expatriate population from the Indian subcontinent, cricket has always had a huge inherent potential to grow in the region.
The historical roots of cricket in Saudi Arabia date back to the 1960s, although it was only in 2003 that the Kingdom became an affiliated member of the International Cricket Council (ICC). It was granted an associate status in 2016, while also inducted as a full member of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) in the same year.
It is on this basis that the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) seeks to usher in a new vision for the expansion of the sport under its president Prince Saud bin Mishal Al Saud. Coming into existence as the single governing body for cricket in Saudi Arabia in 2020, SACF has set long-term goals to increase community participation between Saudis and expatriates alike.
Working towards the ultimate goal of establishing competitive Saudi Arabian national teams, SACF has recently launched several initiatives including the formation of a national cricket championship.
The ongoing first edition of the domestic tournament has seen the participation of over 7,000 players, with matches being held at 11 different locations across the state. The President of SACF has stressed that this program is the beginning of a major change, and that many more initiatives are in the pipeline.
“One of our biggest plans is to have a proper infrastructure for the sport, because we don’t have it today,” Prince Saud bin Mishal Al Saud told Arab News in a recent interview.
“We are planning cricket academies, more grounds, better facilities with entertainment and other services around them to attract Saudi as well as foreign youth to the sport.
“We are talking to coaches and legends of the game, and we will qualify them to improve coaches in domestic cricket and help at the national level.”
In order to raise awareness about the sport in Saudi Arabia, the federation has signed several MoUs with governmental, semi-governmental and private entities. In the past week, the SACF president visited the ICC headquarters in Dubai to hold a meeting with officials from the sport’s world governing body. The Chairman also visited the Sharjah Cricket Stadium where he was given a hands-on briefing about the facilities and land management.
Those meetings in the UAE came on the heels of the chairman hosting the Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dr. Ausaf Sayeed in Riyadh. Discussions revolved around how the two countries could collaborate to develop the sport in Saudi Arabia.
The SACF has certainly been making all the right noise with its approach to cricket in Saudi Arabia, and the Kingdom looks forward to a promising future for the sport.
The United Arab Emirates and Oman have been the dominant cricketing forces in the Gulf so far, but the region could soon have a more serious player if all goes as SACF goes.
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