ABU DHABI // Undiscovered street footballers are to be the stars of a new reality show that pits neighbourhood against neighbourhood.
Al Dhafra TV has launched a league for beach football to go with its show, Al Furjann (The Districts).
The matches will be broadcast on national television and will include glimpses of behind-the-scenes drama among the players.
"Most renowned football players started by playing in their districts. This is what football is about," said Abdulrasoul Abdullah, the general supervisor of the championship and an official at the UAE Football Federation. "The show will help highlight and promote Al Furjann as a sport."
The UAE regularly holds beach football competitions, but has not yet done so on such a large scale.
"Usually it is a few districts from one or two emirates. This time we had eight teams try out from each of the seven emirates and Al Ain," he said, adding that the show would help discover new talent for future national teams.
"I know two cases of players who did not succeed through clubs, but were discovered through Furjann tournaments and are now playing in the national team," he said.
Humid al Buloushi, who has played football in the street since he was a child, is one of them. He participated in his first Furjann tournament at age 18 and was eventually selected for the beach football national team.
Now 21, al Buloushi started playing for a club in Moscow a month ago. "We were playing a friendly match with them before the World Cup preliminaries, and I was able to shoot a goal from my position as the goalkeeper of my team," he said.
The 16 finalist teams will battle it out for a Dh200,000 prize over 14 matches starting on April 15. The matches will be held at the Abu Dhabi Corniche.
The best footballer and goalkeeper will also be awarded a Dh50,000 Fighter safari vehicle produced by the UAE company Moca.
"We chose to have the tournament take place on the beach, because in districts football is mostly played on sand. There aren't that many grass fields," Mr Abdullah said.
"The special thing about Furjann games is that the players and teams know each other and they have formed the teams themselves, so there is harmony between them.
"We also expect more youth to be attracted to the sport after the show, because if they have the skills, they can easily join the team, unlike professional clubs, where procedures and administration approvals are needed."
The fact that none of the players were professional initially worried the show's crew. "People kept warning us that 'those players are not professional, you can't deal with them'," said Nasser al Rahma, the show's director.
The show's presenter, Fahad al Ameri, added: "On the first day of shooting, a fight broke out between two brothers from the same team - they were blaming each other for the team's defeat. But we soon became accustomed to the atmosphere and we are dealing smoothly with them."
He said it was common for fights to break out over defeats.
"We did not try to stop or start any, because we want to keep it natural for the credibility of the show."
Abulraheem al Yaqeen, the captain of the Khazna Falcons team, said he had been playing with the same team since he was a youth.
Now 30, he said he was participating in this league as a farewell to the sport.
"The good thing about Furjann teams is that we know each other inside out, so we know how each one plays," he said.
"Having the tournament on sand is very helpful in discovering talents because to make it on sand it requires full control over the ball."