DUBAI // A director of a regional initiative to improve the infrastructure of UAE sport has highlighted the need for the country to establish a national centre of excellence similar to Qatar's Aspire Academy.
Thomas Brookes, of Mena Sports, the latest venture by the International Sports Management group, is in Dubai this week to embark on "Phase 2" of the project and confirmed that, while golf and cricket will feature on its agenda, enhancing both the standard and profile of football in the UAE will take precedence until the end of the year.
Brookes, the managing director of ISM's International Football Management arm, plans to work closely with Pro League clubs to address issues in player-coach recruitment, sports science, psychology, and academy and post-academy programmes.
He cites the Aspire Academy, whose "Football Dreams" project since its inception in 2007 has evaluated more than two million players throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, as the benchmark for the development of athletes and believes it is a template that could be adapted to help evolve the game in the UAE.
"If the UAE could build or facilitate a national centre of excellence, like Qatar have done with Aspire, and tie that in with club programmes that would be hugely beneficial," Brookes said.
"Certainly, as far as the UAE is concerned there needs to be something equivalent if they're going to continue to improve. For what they've got they have done ever so well, but to have something sustainable they have got to build a site and have a centre of excellence nationally."
Aspire provides sports development, sports science and academic learning for scholarships for boys ages 12-18, yet Brookes emphasised the need to provide a platform to ensure talented youngsters do not filter out of the system at 18.
He said a number of management companies have been recruited in Qatar to help improve the infrastructure of its football, labelling the Gulf state's hosting of the 2022 World Cup as the catalyst for change.
"It will be interesting to see how the UAE embraces the kind of things we're going to put forward," Brookes said. "With Qatar there's an end-goal; they've got something to aim for.
"With the UAE we need to see if that drive is there.
"The good thing about the UAE is that anything's feasible; just look at what has been done there in the past 20 years. And that's why we're involved - when there's a logic to doing something people have the finance to back it, but it's about having the expertise and the know-how of doing it properly. That's where we come in."
Brookes said Mena Sports, backed by Sheikh Dheyab bin Tahnoon, is committed to the long-term refinement of professional sport in the UAE. He also accepts that others before have been frustrated in attempts to enhance the level of professionalism here.
"It is going to take time, a lot of change and a lot of understanding on our part," said Brookes, who has already spoken to the Pro League, the Football Association and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. "We're working with people within clubs - at this stage I can't say which ones - who understand that changes need to be made and are willing to help us help them facilitate those changes.
"It is a slow process, which we're well aware has driven many companies to come and go, but we won't be going. We've come into this with our eyes wide open so we're not going to get frustrated and jump ship. And if it is four or five years before things start taking shape then so be it."
Brookes will relocate to Dubai at the end of the year and commit more staff to the venture as it gathers pace, with announcements to be made early next year regarding golf. Cricket initiatives, including a Legends event, are expected to follow in October 2013.
Andrew Chandler, the ISM manager, whose connection with the UAE dates to playing in the inaugural Dubai Desert Classic in 1989 and now involves a number of sponsorship deals with Emirates-based companies, says he has been encouraged by the positive response to Mena Sports.
"We've had pretty good hearings from everybody and with doing it we seem to have given ourselves a bit of credibility where people have been happy to listen to us and get involved," he said. "There's some really good opportunities in sport in the UAE, particularly in golf and football, and it would be wrong for us not to be positioned to try and help build on that momentum."