Ranked 28th in the latest ICC T20I ranking, Saudi Arabia is not a name synonymous with cricket. However, that could all change if the latest move to promote cricket in the region could spark the required spark.
Football has dominated the landscape of the Kingdom of the Middle East, with five qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup in the last seven editions confirming their status as giants of the Asian continent.
As football continues to flourish in Saudi Arabia, the past few years have seen several top sporting events and athletes come to the Kingdom. As part of the broad vision of the Vision2030 master plan, Saudi Arabia has recently hosted some of the biggest events in boxing, wrestling, tennis, golf and car rallying.
Later this year, the country will host its first Formula 1 Grand Prix with an overnight race at the Jeddah Street circuit.
As the multitude of investments in various sports continue to gain momentum, cricket in Saudi Arabia is poised to receive a boost with a renewed focus on developing the game. With a large expat population Originating in the Indian subcontinent, cricket has always had a vast underlying potential for growth in the region.
The historical roots of cricket in Saudi Arabia date back to the 1960s, although it was not until 2003 that the Kingdom became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC). He was then promoted to associate status in 2016, while being inducted as a full member of the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) in the same year.
It is on this basis that the Saudi Cricket Federation (SACF) under the leadership of its president, Prince Saud Bin Mishaal Al Saud, seeks to usher in a new vision for the expansion of the sport. Established in 2020 as the sole administrative body for cricket in Saudi Arabia, SACF has set long-term goals to strengthen community participation of Saudis and expatriates.
Working towards the ultimate goal of establishing competitive Saudi national teams, SACF has recently launched several initiatives which include the formation of the National Cricket Championship.
The current first edition of the national tournament saw the participation of more than 7,000 players, with matches being organized at 11 different venues across the Kingdom. The president of the SACF affirmed that this program is only the beginning of a major overhaul and that several other initiatives are underway.
“One of our biggest plans is to have a suitable infrastructure for the game, since we don’t have it today,” Prince Saud Bin Mishal Al Saud told Arab News in a recent interview.
“We are planning to have cricket academies, more grounds, better facilities with entertainment and other services around them to attract young Saudis and foreigners to the game.
“We are talking to coaches and legends of the game, and we will have them qualify and improve national cricket coaches and help at the national level.”
In its attempt to publicize the game in Saudi Arabia, the federation has signed several memoranda of understanding with government, semi-government and private entities. Last week, the SACF President visited ICC headquarters in Dubai to meet with officials from the world’s sport governing body. The President also visited Sharjah Cricket Stadium where he got a first-hand view of the facilities and management of the pitch.
These meetings in the United Arab Emirates took place in the wake of the President who hosted the Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Sayeed in Riyadh. The discussion focused on how the two countries could cooperate to develop the sport across Saudi Arabia.
The SACF is definitely doing everything possible with its vision for cricket in Saudi Arabia, and a bright future seems to be in store for the sport in the Kingdom.
The UAE and Oman have so far been the dominant cricket forces in the Gulf, but there may soon be another serious player in the region if all goes as planned for the SACF.
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