World Cup-winning rugby union winger Jason Robinson reckons he would have made an even bigger impact on the game if he had been able to take advantage of the sporting opportunities now available to youngsters in the UAE. Dual-code international Robinson and Trevor Sinclair, who played international football for England, were special guests in Dubai for the launch of the Elite Sports Academy.
The Air Miles-sponsored academy is one of the first of its kind in the UAE which focuses on guiding youngsters to the top of their chosen sports through trials and matches with professional clubs, academies and universities around the world. The coaching staff includes Australia and Everton midfielder Tim Cahill, the Samoan Apollo Perelini, another former dual-code rugby international, and the former England football international Carlton Palmer.
Robinson said: "Children are the future of any sport and it is great to give them the opportunity they need to pursue and fulfil something in life. The facilities here are just fantastic and the guys here doing the coaching are all top class. "If I had people like Apollo coaching me at a young age I would have made a bigger impact on the game." And Robinson has some tips for youngsters wanting to get to the top. "Work hard, be committed, attend the training and, most important, enjoy it."
Sinclair said: "I live in Dubai with three kids and for me, as a parent, such facilities create a great opportunity to excel in sports." He added: "My advice for the kids is to enjoy the game. Just go out there and play as much as you can and then the coaching helps you to build on the fundamentals." Several aspiring young tennis players got the chance to rub shoulders with the world No 1 women's tennis doubles pairing of Cara Black and Liezel Huber at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship Girls' Tennis Clinic at the Aviation Club.
"It was an honour to play against these players and a very nice feeling to get this kind of experience," said Fatma Al Janahi, who recently represented the UAE at the Asian Championship for juniors under 14 years old, in Malaysia. "It was interesting to get some tips on serving and consistency. I am hoping that by next year I will be good enough to play in this tournament," she added. "It was very good to learn from their experience," said Kim Saade, from Syria, while 15-year-old Grace Talih, from Lebanon, said: "It was a very good experience and I learned a lot."
Slah Bramly, the technical director of Emirates Tennis, said: "This is how the tournament has a direct benefit on tennis in the region - when our top young players meet with the top players in the world." "These players dream of being at the top and it's not the same sitting in the stands or watching on TV. Actually getting to play with the top players will directly benefit their game." The Zimbabwean Black said: "My advice to them would be to work hard, stick with it and try to have the best attitude and give the best that they can the whole time."
Five matches are to be played in Abu Dhabi Football Club under 13 and under 15 competitions tonight. Stuttgart Sports face the Grammar School at 4.30pm, Al Dhafra Academy play the Korean Community an hour later and the French and German Schools clash in the final game in the under 13 category. Abu Dhabi Thistles and Al Manarah School play at 5pm on the main pitch followed by the Al Dhafra Academy versus Stuttgart in the under 15 games.