Author: KEVIN AFFLECKThu, 2018-03-29 03:00ID: 1522267771571108000
LONDON/ NEW YORK: A team of international students from Saudi Arabia played their American counterparts in a specially arranged football match to mark the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the US.
Eyas Zakri, a 22-year-old from Jeddah who is studying mass communications at Bowie State University, founded the “Kingdom” team last year with students studying at several universities in Virginia. But Mondays friendly game, which ended in a 3-3 draw, was their most significant match yet.
“We wanted to appreciate the visit of our crown prince,” Zakri told Arab News. “We are all students here and we wanted to show him our happiness about his visit through the language of sport.
“When you see someone really wanting to raise our flag high, you do whatever you can to help him. It was important we played this game.”
Zakri said the crown princes visit had been the talk of the team for weeks.
“We are really happy,” he said. “For sure, its big news. When he came here, a lot of things came with him. They are helping the students and taking care of their needs. He is going to personally see the students in California. Its historic. The visit will make a lot of opportunities for us back home.”
Zakri said he will return to Saudi Arabia after he completes his masters to pursue a Ph.D. On his return, he will find his homeland undergoing vast changes driven by the crown prince.
“There is a lot of opportunities,” Zakri said. “The crown prince knows exactly what to do for young people. He has shown us we need to be working hard, and that we cant just take a small job and wait for a rest.
“He has made a lot of changes already. The first thing we are happy about is that he stopped the corruption inside the government. He has made changes to the economy, to sports and in a lot of fields. We hope Vision 2030 happens and we become one of the leading countries in the world.”
Sport forms a big part of the reforms taking place in the Kingdom. Major events, such as the World Boxing Super Series final and a European tour golf event, are being hosted, as the country opens its doors and broadens its appeal, while restrictions on women watching and playing sport have been lifted.
“We are expecting a lot of changes, and are already hearing about the agreements the crown prince has made,” said Zakri. “There will be a lot of stadiums opening by the end of 2018 in the north of Saudi Arabia. Also, I really want to get back so I can see the excitement of the Saudi people for the World Cup.”
Princess Reema bint Bandar, head of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports, is using sport to help drive the Kingdoms economic growth via a “sports ecosystem” throughout the country.
“We really want to meet her,” said Zakri. “This is a big position for a woman and she really did a beautiful job. She knows what she is doing and she understands. She knows what happens in sport and has been involved in sport for a long time. Its a passion for her. One of my dreams is to meet this woman to let her know about our team.”
The Kingdom team was set up with just four players — now more than 50 Saudi students attend practice.
“We have a rule that they have to be a good player and well behaved,” said Zakri.
“Sometimes we play four times a week. We made a lot of tournaments for international students and we play in two leagues here. We have a game on Sunday and the finals will be on Saturday, April 7. Its going to be a big final.”
Main category: Saudi ArabiaTags: Saudi Crown Prince Royal TourBowie State UniversityEyas ZakriSaudi Vision 2030Saudi Federation for Community SportsPrincess Reema bint Bandarrelated_nodes: Saudi crown prince signs MoU with SoftBank to set up world's largest solar projectWomen play to win at US-Saudi business meetRoads of Arabia expo plays crucial role in enhancing Saudi-American cultural ties