Saudi Arabia Holds First Sports-Based Artificial Intelligence Hackathon

Hundreds of computer programmers, developers and tech heads took part on Friday in Dawri Thakaa, the first sports-related Artificial Intelligence hackathon in Saudi Arabia. The event comes on the heels of the Kingdom making AI a national priority as a key enabler in realizing many ambitious transformation programs.

Dawri Thakaa took place on Friday at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Digital City in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. One hundred and fifty teams of programmers and data scientists competed to develop AI models that can predict the results of the upcoming matches in the Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Cup League for football (soccer). A total of 500 teams had registered to take part in the hackathon.

The hackathon was organized by the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones (SAFCSP) in partnership with the AI Center of Advanced Studies (Thakaa Center) and sponsored by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the General Sports Authority.

“The Thakaa hackathon tournament is the first-time technological sports hackathon using AI techniques designed specifically to discover the skills of amateurs and specialists in AI,” SAFCSP said in a statement.

Abdullah Sharaf Al Ghamdi, the chief executive of the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones (SAFCSP) stated: “Dawri Thakaa is a hackathon that aims to promote the application of artificial intelligence to augment the analyses and predictions through reasoning, perception, and logical deductions for the upcoming matches in Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Cup League.

Al Ghamdi added: “The hackathon intends to harness the talents, in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence, of the human capital of KSA.

“It encourages the participants to apply their knowledge, experience, and expertise to devise a model to predict the results of the soccer matches. This event also aims to motivate the new generation to invest in learning new technologies leading to innovative and successful startups.”

The hackathon conforms with the second pillar of Vision 2030 and will lead to the diversification of the revenue and attracting investment in the field of IT and artificial intelligence, he added.

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology transformation plan outlines several promising objectives that include promoting the Kingdom as a regional hub for IT, expanding the ICT sector by accommodating new technology domains, producing more graduates with competent and industry ready ICT skills, and housing world-class R&D centers, he said.

“Dawri Thakaa can be considered as the first initiative in the field of artificial intelligence that fulfills all the aforementioned objectives of MCIT,” he said.

A study on the predictions for the English Football League published by Imperial College London described an AI model with a 52% prediction accuracy, according to Dawri Thakaa organizers.

“In similar efforts for this hackathon, competing teams will analyze large datasets containing information on match outcomes, team scores, individual players and many other data points gathered from previous soccer matches of the Saudi league. Then, data scientists will figure out which factors may affect future matches using Machine Learning techniques,” the organizers added.

The competing teams were given 12 hours to build their AI models, starting at 7 am and working until 7 pm. The teams then submitted their models and their predictions for the 44 remaining league games. No changes to the submissions are allowed afterward. Then, each week following the completion of the soccer games, the hackathon teams’ leaderboard will be published and updated, based on the teams with the most accurate predictions

At the end of the final football game in May, the top three teams will be announced during the awards ceremony for the Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Cup League for football (soccer). Prizes will exceed SAR 500,000.

Dawri Thakaa is sponsored by the General Sports Authority, the Saudi Professional League, and Accenture.

In August 2018, SAFCSP organized the first Hajj Hackathon, a record-breaking event grouping computer developers, programmers and tech heads from Saudi Arabia, the GCC and across the world, and thousands of others from more than 100 countries.

Teams were tasked with coming up with using state-of-the-art technology to make the annual Hajj pilgrimage a more efficient and enjoyable experience for the throngs that annually descend on the Holy City of Makkah.

An all-female team of Saudi computer developers and programmers, who developed the Turjuman instant translation app to facilitate communication by pilgrims from all over the world, won first place at Hajj Hackathon, which officially broke the Guinness World Record for most participants in a software development jam in a hackathon. Attendees included techno legends Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc., and Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia.