DUBAI // UAE preparations for the ongoing GCC Championships had to be curtailed in the weeks leading up to the tournament because of fears over the players contracting swine flu, a long-time coach has revealed. Ali al Shamsi also said this competition must be seen a stepping stone to greater exposure at international level for a number of the players in the junior under 18 and cadet under 15 age categories.
Gold medals eluded the UAE in the team competition which finished on Monday evening, with the junior bronze medal winners claiming the UAE's only honours. But hopes are high that yesterday's improved form would reap rewards in the competitions left. Though the UAE squad worked hard in the run up to the event - which is being held at Al Nasr Club and concludes today - coach al Shamsi said an international training camp planned for the players was cancelled because parents were concerned their children may contract swine flu. "We wanted to send them on a training camp overseas," he said yesterday. "But it was not possible because the parents would not let the players go because of the H1N1 flu pandemic around the world."
Al Shamsi said it was a shame his players missed out on international experience, but equally, said he understood why parents would make such a decision. "I cannot have a problem with that," he said. "I am a father myself and I understand those concerns. It was a shame but it was understandable. Instead, we brought a Chinese player over here and some of the Egyptian players and we had a camp in Dubai."
Al Shamsi, who represented the UAE, becoming the first Emirati table tennis player to take the sport abroad when representing his country at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok, said his squad were full of promising players. "Many of our younger players show a lot of potential," he said. "There are excellent under 12s and even under 10s and the fact younger players are coming through is essential for the sport's development. They are our future."
It is a marked contrast from when al Shamsi was on the national team. "It was not a big sport then," said al Shamsi, who has seen the ranks of junior players develop in his 18 years as one of the national team coaches. "Maybe there were 45 or 50 players in total. Now we have more coming through and playing at clubs and also playing at home. "When I was playing for the UAE, I was at the international events for experience, now we want to see our players compete. We know it's hard for us, when you look at the Asian countries they have thousands of players coming through their development system."
Meanwhile, Qatar reigned supreme in the under 18 junior category last night, defeating Kuwait 3-1 in the doubles finals. Kuwait and Bahrain's cadets fought it out to 2-2 before Kuwait took the upper hand in the last game, winning 3-2. firstname.lastname@example.org