DUBAI // A beach sports festival is proving that given the right encouragement and a bit of room to move, the city's people are all too willing to try a healthier lifestyle. And in a good sign for the fight against the country's high rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, organisers say many of the Beach Games Festival's 1,500 participants so far are families and sports novices.
The festival, now in its fourth week, was organised by the Dubai Sports Council (DSC) and allows people to try new sports, such as surfing and scuba diving, and take part in team competitions. But Ashraf Elramloi, the DSC's sports supervisor, said while the enrolments for team sports had been impressive, the real emphasis for the festival was getting families to join in. "The football super cup has been very competitive with teams from across the emirates," Mr Elramloi said. "The final will be played [tomorrow] before the closing ceremony and the winners will receive a trophy. We have also had 25 teams, including ex-professional players, in a basketball league.
"But the festival is also about people trying new sports and activities in a less competitive atmosphere. We have even set up an American Gladiator-style ring, which has been fun. "The focus has been on attracting families to take part in activities together." Rashid al Kamali, the DSC's director of marketing and promotions, said the council had also wanted the beach to become a centre for sport and leisure in a city with scarce facilities.
"The beach festival has proved very popular and we have received positive feedback by those who have taken part," Mr al Kamali said. "It is part of our commitment to promoting a healthy lifestyle and encouraging young people to pursue sports and leisure activities. "The beaches in Dubai are very popular areas of open space and it is great to see people using them for exercise in a fun way." The festival has been running since Jan 15 with expert tuition also available in sports such as football, golf and cycling.
It has also embraced traditional local activities, such as Al Youla, the Bedouin dance performed with a "rifle". "We have had workshops and tuition in 16 traditional sports, where local children have had the opportunity of learning games that are part of their heritage," said Mr Elramloi. The festival has also sought to promote involvement in sport for children with special needs. Several specialist schools, including the Sharjah Centre for Special Needs, have arranged school trips.
Al Khaleej National School, of Al Garhoud, has had several sports days for its pupils on the beach. Liakhath Shaik, 38, from India, has been a regular participant at the festival and said it had created a great atmosphere at Jumeriah Open Beach. "The beach festival has certainly livened up the area," Ms Shaik said. "The weekends have been busy but also the workshops organised in the evenings. "I have met lots of families taking part and people seem to have enjoyed playing sport. The mini-golf and volleyball have been especially popular.
"I hope it will promote fitness, which will also help reduce heart disease, that has become a big issue in the UAE in the last few years. I hope people still play even when the festival finishes." The festival, which has run on the weekends and weekday evenings, continues until Sunday. People can register for activities, workshops or tuition at a DSC booth at the beach. firstname.lastname@example.org