x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

10. Volunteer armband for the first Abu Dhabi grand prix, 2009

To mark the nation's 40th anniversary, we feature 40 historic objects.

40@40 Volunteer armband for the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 2009. Courtesy Khalid Al Hosseni
40@40 Volunteer armband for the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 2009. Courtesy Khalid Al Hosseni
With a thunderous roar of engines, the 2009 Formula One race at the new Yas Island Marina Circuit introduced Abu Dhabi to the world of international sporting occasions.

While the thousands of overseas visitors who flocked to the city were doubtless impressed by the five-star hotels, the turquoise waters of the Corniche and the splendour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, perhaps what made the most impact was the chance to meet hundreds of young Emirati men and women.

That they where able to do so was thanks to Takatof, an initiative of the Emirates Foundation. A voluntary social programme, Takatof translates as "shoulder to shoulder" although its mission statement is "discover the hero in you".

For the 2009 Grand Prix and subsequent races, Takatof recruited several hundred volunteers to act as ambassadors for the country, helping with crowd management, transporting VIPs, manning information points and generally making themselves useful.

Among them three years ago was Khalid Al Hosseni, an area supervisor taking charge of teams of male and female volunteers in the north grandstand. Al Hosseni describes their role as "work, smile and answer questions. Very simple, very easy, but at the same time it is very hard to do it.

"Just imagine that you are smiling for 12 hours, your cheeks will be painful and you will be standing on your feet and answering the same question a thousand times."

Referring to Takatof, he says: "Shoulder to shoulder we were together, representing the UAE culture. To be more specific, we were the UAE's cultural ambassadors." It was a rule, he says, that the volunteers began by helping each other put on their armbands, and always on the right hand side.

The Takatof volunteers, he says, were the first inside the racetrack for the three days of the debut GP. "We were a bit nervous and scared about what was going to happen to us." After the first 10 minutes though, he recalls, "the volunteers, they got used to it, and everything worked very fine."