DUBAI // Mohammed ben Sulayem believes motorsport in the country is in desperate need of fresh blood and has been busy drawing up plans to attract more youngsters.
Earlier this year, the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) held a UAE Motor Star programme, where five of the country's best young talents were given lessons in physical fitness and other demands of the sport by experts from the University of Ulster. Two from them, Mohammed Al Mutawaa and Mohammed Al Dhaheri, were picked to undergo an intensive one-week programme at the university.
Ben Sulayem has promised more such programmes, but wants to see more Emiratis getting behind the wheels of karts and at a much younger age.
"We have an issue in the UAE: we don't have young blood," he said. "This is a very serious issue. That is why we had this UAE Motor Star competition and we will definitely have more such programmes because we need young blood. If you do not start from a younger age, you'll have problems."
Ben Sulayem, the ATC president, feels the absence of a role model is hampering his efforts. During his career, the 14-time Middle East rallying champion, attracted hundreds to the sport across the region.
"In the past rallying was popular because when I was driving, people would look up at me," he said. "It's that simple. At the end of the day, if you want a sport to be popular and be a part of the society, you have to have a hero. It's like cricket; cricket is not popular among the Emiratis because we don't have a champion or a hero.
"Another problem is that sports in this part of the world, is not fan-driven; it is government-driven and that is why we don't get spectators. So there are a lot of challenges that we face, but we need to overcome them and upgrade the level of our game."