x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A little bit of England - and the UAE - on a foreign field

Business of sport: The UAE Embassy and Manchester City, the former champions of the EPL, would join forces to build an artificial-turf football pitch at Marie Reed Elementary school in the capital of the United States.

For students wishing to emulate the antics of the English Premier League's (EPL) stars as the season starts next weekend, there will soon be no more kicking around on a scruffy football field at the Marie Reed Elementary school in the capital of the United States.

For that good fortune the pupils can thank the UAE Embassy and Manchester City Football Club.

The years have not been entirely kind to Marie Reed, which was built in the 1970s and is now a less-than-elegant landmark in the heart of Washington's gentrified Adams Morgan district.

But life is looking up for the school, which educates pupils from kindergarten to the fifth grade, and hardly anyone could be more upbeat than Eugene Pinkard, the principal.

"Gary Hopkins of Man City stopped by the school and described the vision, and we were sold," Mr Pinkard said last week, referring to Manchester City's board member for international development.

"We quickly got the community engaged to convince Man City that we'd be a good partner, and to get the various [Washington] DC agencies to endorse the plan as well."

But what was the plan? The UAE Embassy and City, the former champions of the EPL, would join forces to build an artificial-turf football pitch at Marie Reed. The English team would also provide after-school coaching for children from the neighbourhoods around the school through the team's City Soccer in the Community programme.

As part of the multi-agency effort that has resulted from the UAE-Manchester City proposal, Washington's municipal government will rehabilitate the school grounds adjacent to the football pitch.

A visit to Marie Reed on Wednesday afternoon showed the wear and tear afflicting the school's heavily used park amenities, which include tennis courts and a play area for young children.

That visit also revealed work in progress on the renovation of the football field. Heavy equipment was parked next to bulldozed mounds of earth and asphalt.

Overlooking the construction project was a banner attached to a chain-link fence and reading: "City Soccer in the Community. Your New Soccer Field Coming Fall 2013." The banner bears the emblems of the UAE and Manchester City FC.

It also carries the logos of Washington's department of parks and recreation and of the District of Columbia public schools, two of the local agencies partnering in the Marie Reed project.

For decades, Adams Morgan had a large African-American population and was also an affordable residential entry point to the city for immigrants from the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa.

But in the recent years, wealthier residents have gradually taken over the area.

Rents and property values increased, and, in a classic round of gentrification, poorer residents relocated to less costly parts of the city. Businesses - especially trendy restaurants and bars - also moved in. Today, the main street running through Adams Morgan is one of Washington's top nightlife destinations, attracting mainly university students and young professionals.

Marie Reed's fortunes were not mirrored in the economic gains of the wider Adams Morgan community, and the upkeep of the campus has suffered amid austerity in Washington's system of public schools.

Then, on to the scene came Manchester City and the UAE Embassy with their makeover proposal.

At the April 2 groundbreaking for the project, Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador to the United States, spoke of Marie Reed's place in its community.

"Marie Reed Elementary School and this park are cornerstones of Adams Morgan, and we are excited to construct a field that will give kids more access to soccer and benefit the entire community," Mr Al Otaiba said in remarks quoted on the UAE Embassy's website.

Mr Pinkard, Marie Reed's principal, is eagerly awaiting the handover of the new field, which is expected before winter sets in.

"It totally expands how much we can do for kids in physical education and outdoor activities," he said last week.

"Having the soccer lines and goals adds a similar level of upgrade [to] the quality of our sports programmes. City Soccer's community soccer programme is going to ensure that the field is a resource for kids in the area, not just [for] programmes and adults.

"That's a long-term, substantive commitment that makes this really special."