SHARJAH // Abdulrahman al Ali has lost 25 kilograms over the past year since he started spending 10 hours a week running, swimming and playing football. Now, the 22-year-old Sharjah Men's College student has an unexpected new partner to help him get more fit: the Sharjah Football Club.
Mr al Ali is one of 60 business and IT students from the college taking part in a new partnership between the college and the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) and the football club to improve their health. The programme is based on a similar one in the UK called Creating Chances, which gets Premier League football clubs involved in communities. Mr al Ali, who once weighed 110kg, says he will need the extra help.
"I can't cut out junk food and fizzy drink though," he said. "I've grown up on this so it's very hard. It's an addiction. It's the lifestyle here and around the world, not just the UAE." The general manager of Sharjah FC, Tim March, said the programme was only the first stage in a wider effort by the club to become involved in the lives of young people and their communities. "It's part of a bigger picture initiative to get closer to the schools and colleges," he said.
"Community and sports is commonplace in the UK, but none of the clubs here do it. We're trying to be a role model for the other clubs, saying we do need to work with schools, colleges, the whole community." Under the programme, the Sharjah Men's College students will have to attend two hours of health and wellness classes, in which they will learn about diet, how the bodywork and widespread health problems such as diabetes and obesity, and two hours of physical education a week.
The students will be divided into three groups based on their fitness levels, then directed towards suitable sports, from low-impact walking to football, if they wish to take part. Mr March will lead some of the students in weekly football coaching sessions. But most importantly, all the students will get "the opportunity to exercise", said Aart Leeuwenburgh, head of year one at the college. "They are giving us great access to experts we would not otherwise have had," Mr Leeuwenburgh said.
"We want the students to not see this as a course which they'll leave behind when it's finished, but something they will continue to realise is important in their lives." On the first day of the course last week, the students measured their body mass index and blood pressure, which will help them track their progress. Mr Leeuwenburgh said he hoped such programmes would take root across the Emirates, and, indeed, other fitness programmes are afoot across the country.
HCT began offering physical education to students at Dubai Women's College (DWC) two years ago using staff from the health sciences and physical education faculties. It is now compulsory at the school, as well as at Al Ain and Abu Dhabi Men's Colleges. Donna Behl, a programme chair for year one from DWC, said the fitness project was not popular when it started. However, 1,200 students now use the facilities each week, with many graduates even becoming members of the sports club.
"It's been gradual, but now it's becoming a way of life for the students," she said. Sharjah Women's College is also launching a fitness programme this month for 150 students. Sharjah FC recently offered its 7,000-capacity stadium free to local schools for sports days, to encourage them to participate in athletics by giving them access to the club's facilities, including football fields and a 400-metre running track.
Our Own English High School and the GEMS Academy have taken advantage of the offer "As a club, we are supporting education and health together, trying to encourage the students to take responsibility for their own health, but to encourage them to engage at the same time," Mr March said. email@example.com