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DIRIYAH: Former Chelsea player and international football icon Didier Drogba has praised Saudi Arabia and its environmental initiatives aimed at promoting a greener planet during a visit to the Kingdom on Friday.

“I’m really proud of all the the changes, and what is happening right now in Saudi Arabia is showing another face of the country to the world,” he said. “To have an event like Formula E here shows a lot of what the Kingdom wants to achieve in the coming years.”

The Ivorian star made an appearance in Diriyah on Friday for the season opener of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, the all-electric racing series which champions sustainability and eco-friendly motor sport.

Drogba came to show his support for what he believes is a worthy cause battling the environmental plight mankind faces globally.

“When you see all the damage that our planet has suffered, I think this is a big signal for the world to make a change,” Drogba told Arab News. “Yes we can enjoy our cars, but we can be sustainable and eco-friendly, and this is so important.

“It’s amazing to see it here in Saudi Arabia and I would love to come back to get to know the country better,” he added.

Drogba’s first visit to the Kingdom came during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, where, along with friends and fellow players Ronaldo, Figo, Totti and Roberto Carlos, he enjoyed watching the Saudi national team defeat Japan 1-0 at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah to qualify for the most elite football tournament.

As a footballer, the Ivorian striker enjoyed a scintillating career. He scored 164 goals in 381 games and won four Premier Leagues, not to mention his critical boot in the 2012 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich that won Chelsea the title that year.

Spanning a tenaciously competitive 20-year career where he made his mark in sporting history, the now-retired athlete is yet to rest on his laurels. He told Arab News that since leaving professional football, his time is spent dedicated to causes worth championing.

Today, he operates the Didier Drogba Foundation, which provides financial and material support across health and education to people in Africa.

“We’re doing so many things. Right now we’re focusing on digital literacy,” he said. “We’re also doing a mobile clinic to go and test people to see if they have heart disease problems and then we send them to the proper hospitals to get treated.

“We’re doing many things by trying to improve the living conditions of the population — it’s a lot of work but I love it.”

Last October, Drogba was appointed by the World Health Organization as Goodwill Ambassador of Health and Sport, a position which sees him promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle around the world.

“Sport is related to health and when you’re in good health you can perform,” he said.

“And as a former athlete, I’ve experienced that when you’re not physically well, you cannot perform, so the aim is get people moving and keeping fit.”

Best known for his career at Chelsea, Drogba also served as Ivory Coast captain from 2006 to 2014 and is the national team’s all-time top scorer. Unfortunately, Ivory Coast were kicked out of the African Cup of Nations when Egypt beat them in a 5-4 penalty shootout last week, taking them out of the competition.

Drogba told Arab News how difficult, unexpected and surprising the tournament can be, as many teams that were favored to win have been knocked out of the running.

“Just to tell you how difficult the competition is and all the surprises we see, like Equatorial Guinea beating Mali who were supposed to be one of the best teams in the tournament — they played really well.

“Cameroon is in a good position, but there’s still Egypt and Morocco that are still on. We cannot say who is going to win now, which is good for the competition.”

Drogba was also named African Footballer of the Year twice, winning the accolade in 2006 and 2009.

Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries won the Formula E season-opening Diriyah E-Prix on Friday for a second year running ahead of teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, who failed to capitalize on his pole position under the floodlights in Riyadh.



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