ABU DHABI // They are usually male-dominated domains, where chanting and heated rivalry rule the day. But, as excitement ahead of the Fifa Club World Cup grows, organisers are determined to attract more women and families to the tournament's football matches.
In an effort to appeal to non-traditional fans of the "beautiful game", lavish entertainment will be laid on before and after matches. In addition, initiatives such as designated female seating and discounted tickets for families will be available. "We are trying to remove barriers, to make it easier for women, children and families to attend," said Shatha al Romaithi, the spokeswoman for the tournament's local organising committee.
Ms al Romaithi, 32, is an avid supporter of the UAE national team. She is usually among a small minority of women at their matches, but says she has recently noticed more female fans turning up. She hopes the Fifa Club World Cup will help change the face of football attendance in the country. Six continental champions, including European champions Barcelona, are coming to Abu Dhabi to join Al Ahli, the UAE Pro League champions. The 11-day tournament, which starts on December 9, will feature eight matches.
Dubai-based Al Ahli kick off the tournament with a game against New Zealand's Auckland City, who arrived yesterday after a 20-hour flight. Internationally recognised footballers, such as Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Juan Sebastian Veron of the Argentine team Estudiantes, are expected to compete for the title of World Club Champions, and a top prize of US$5 million (Dh18m). But, long before the first whistle, organisers promise fans will be able to enjoy a range of entertainment.
This will be available both in the fan zones outside Zayed Sport City and the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, and within the venues. One element will see recorded images of fans put up on giant screens for their friends and families to admire. In fact, Fifa is so confident that people will be enjoy the entertainment that it is encouraging fans to arrive up to two hours before a match starts. The fan zones will feature DJs, live performances, mini football pitches and coaching sessions. Supporters will be able to enjoy cuisine from the continents represented in the tournament and buy official merchandise.
People attending the first and last match days will be treated to the opening and closing ceremonies. There, 400 children aged 13 to 16 will take part in performances choreographed by Wanda Rokicki, who has worked on events such as the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. A traditional performance known as al Ayyala, which combines song and dance and symbolises triumph after battle, according to the Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage website, will also feature.
Just before a match kicks off, videos provided by the clubs will be shown in the grounds to help educate spectators with limited knowledge of the teams. "At the moment it is normally quite static, just pictures and graphics. Really we would like to do something that is really quite lively," said Thomas Gurtner, tournament director. He says it should all add to the atmosphere inside. "You can do something with friends because it is a closed area then.
"You can discuss about who will win with the other spectators." Organisers say tickets will not be sold at the venues and must be bought in advance. They can be purchased at the Fifa Club World Cup stand at Marina Mall, via www.FIFA.com/uae2009 or by calling 800-KICK (5425) or 0971 2 449 9955 from overseas. They can also be bought at Fifa Club World Cup "Football House" on Delma (13th) Street near the intersection with Karamah (24th) Street.
Tickets for the final on December 19, which also includes the third place play-off as well as the tournament's closing ceremony, have already sold out. There were "a few thousand" tickets remaining for the semi-final matches on December 15 and 16, Fifa said yesterday. Tickets are still available for other match days, including the tournament's curtain-raiser between Al Ahli and Auckland City, which will feature the opening ceremony.
Abu Dhabi will also host the tournament, which had been held in Japan since 2005, next year. Ms al Romaithi said she was looking forward to seeing the clubs play live for the first time next week. "Every time I am in the stadium watching a football game, it takes you by surprise all over again and you realise how different is the experience than watching it on TV," she said. "I promise you, there is nothing like it."
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