A leading UAE cricketer has called on the sport's governing body to help emerging talents dedicate themselves to the game without being penalised in their careers. Qasim Zubair, a pivotal member of the national team at 21, said he and his peers often found their wish to play for their country compromised by the reality of having to earn a living.
Zubair, who has just graduated from the Dubai branch campus of Heriot-Watt University, called on the Emirates Cricket Board to work with business to give players the chance to represent their country. The amateur status of cricket in the UAE has compelled Zubair to concentrate on his career in international banking, even though he knew it would affect his chances on the national team. "Although I love playing cricket my priority has to be earning a wage and starting a career," he said, adding that it would not be a good start to "ask for a month off to play cricket".
He went on: "Me and the other young players are looking for the Cricket Board to speak to our employers to secure time off to represent the national team. "If companies were contacted by the Emirates Cricket Board I am sure they would be proud to have national sportsmen on their staff and release us to play in tournaments. "The cricket board should build relationships with employers to ensure players are available for tournaments."
He stressed that the initiative would have to come from "the top management" to avoid a player's career progression being jeopardised. "We are worried that unless the top management is involved we will get penalised for taking time off to play." Zubair said work commitments would severely limit his availability for the national team and would, in all likelihood, restrict his role in helping the UAE team qualify for the 2011 World Cup.
The Emirates Cricket Board would not comment. However, it is understood that there are no plans to introduce semi-professional contracts or to negotiate leave-of-absence with the national players' employers. Zubair's call comes only days after the kick-off of the first professional football competition in the UAE, the Pro League, which organisers hope will boost standards at national and international levels.
Unlike leading cricket countries, such as India and Sri Lanka, the UAE does not have a professional cricket league and sponsorship opportunities are limited. Promising players must emigrate to flourish and those that remain amateur cannot commit to the training regimes and match practice necessary for international sport. Zubair's probable absence is a further setback in the national team's preparations for the World Cup qualifying series next April. The squad now look likely to lose home advantage after reports the tournament may be moved to Bangladesh because of problems with the facilities in Dubai.
Other leading associate member cricket nations, such as Kenya, have introduced semi-professional contracts whereby leading players get a wage that enables them to commit to training, tours and tournaments. Zubair has been awarded a sporting accolade from Heriot-Watt for his contribution to the Dubai campus. He said he was proud of the award, which will be presented in Scotland in November, and hoped it would inspire others.