According to sources, 15 clubs have agreed to the idea of convening a general assembly to discuss the plan, but they still need the support of five more clubs to constitute the prescribed quorum for calling such a meeting.
The clubs will, however, wait until this week’s Football Association presidential elections, allowing the new board to discuss and approve the increase at their first meeting.
If the new council rejects the idea or postpones it for another season, the clubs will renew their efforts to call for a general assembly.
“This matter will be on the table for the new committee after Wednesday’s elections,” said Yousuf Abdullah, the secretary general of the FA.
“This is a technical matter and the committee has the right take a decision on it without involving the general assembly. But if they want to involve a larger number of people in making the decision, they can take the matter to the general assembly. They can have discussions across the board and then decide.
“They will also have to consider when they should implement this increase – with the new season or do it from the season after. They will also have to decide whether the relegated teams should be allowed to continue.”
The delay in announcing the calendar for the next season has also added to the speculation, but Abdullah denied it had anything to do with a possible increase in the number of teams. He said the FA have not finalised their calendar because the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the West Asian Football Federation have not announced their programme yet.
“We expect the AFC and the West Asian Federation to announce their programme in two weeks at the most,” he said.
“We will put our plans before the clubs at a workshop after that and take their opinion on different matters, like the long stops [gaps between games] in the league, and then finalise our programme.”
Yousuf Al Serkal, the interim chief of the FA who is also contesting for the president’s post, has expressed his support for the idea.
“This is not a new proposal in UAE football …,” he said in an interview. “It was discussed even last season and we should consider it with an open mind and objectively. Increasing the number of teams does not benefit one single club or some specific clubs, but it will help more clubs to become professional in their organisation.”
The proposal to increase the league to 14 teams was discussed at a similar workshop last year, according to Dr Khalid Mohammed Abdullah, the chief executive of the Pro League Committee, but he said further studies on the matter, as recommended at the time, have not been conducted. He said the studies conducted then leaned towards a 14-team league, but suggested further research on the financial and marketing side.
He said: “We still need further study on things like, are the TV rights holders willing to pay more for a bigger league, how will we distribute the dividends among the 14 clubs and what will be the length of our season.”
Some of the country’s top clubs such as Al Ain and Al Wahda, however, are not in favour of the idea. An Al Ain official, who did not want to be named, believes increasing the number of teams would dilute the competition.
“If you look at the difference between the champions Al Ain and Sharjah, it is 42 points,” he said.
“For a league, which involves only 22 matches, this is huge and it just shows the difference in the levels of the top teams and those at the bottom. If we increase the league to 14 teams, we are going to see greater imbalance and a lot weaker competition, and this is not going to serve UAE football.”
Al Jazira’s general supervisor Mohammed Al Anzi and the vice chairman of Baniyas, Saif Obaid Al Khaili, support the expansion.
“I strongly support the calls for increasing the number of teams to 14,” Al Khaili said. “It will increase the number of matches we play and, as we have seen with Baniyas this season, playing more regularly increases the technical levels of the players and provides greater opportunity for players as you need to rotate your squad.
“The increase might also reflect positively on attendance as the fans of smaller clubs will get the opportunity to watch the big stars.”
Al Anzi said: “An increase in the number of league matches to 26 will mean the players will have to work harder on their fitness and be ready for playing matches at frequent intervals. This will be good for the overall level of football.”
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