SME profile: Dubai club founders look to whole new ball game with padel
Padel may well be the biggest sport that you never knew existed. The game is almost like a cross between tennis and squash, but is less physically demanding than both.
It is also tremendously popular. Invented in Mexico in the late 1960s, it grew across Latin America before firmly taking root in Spain, where an estimated 6 million to 10 million people regularly play, making it the country’s second-most popular sport after football.
Carolina Gallo, who is a director of the new Padel Pro club that has recently opened at the Sportsmania complex bordering Discovery Gardens and Jumeirah Lakes Towers, said that the game is so popular in Spain that padel courts are as prevalent at affluent villas in the country as swimming pools.
Ms Gallo, a Spanish national, is a former tennis professional who switched to padel a few years ago after suffering an injury.
“I started playing padel because it doesn’t hurt the joints as much, because of the surface,” she says.
The game is played on smaller courts, with transparent walls that can be used to direct shots. The rackets, or padels, used are also solid, and the game is played in pairs.
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Padel is also growing in popularity in the UAE. Ms Gallo was recruited to manage the country’s first padel club and later went on to run a padel academy, also in Dubai. There are also private courts for Emiratis at Nad Al Sheba, and there are courts at Abu Dhabi Country Club. A UAE Padel Association was set up in 2014 with Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum as its president. Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed is also a keen supporter of the sport.
Padel Pro has been set up by three friends, Mohamed (Mo) Galal, Karim Nsouli and Hussein El Reda, with Ms Gallo as club director and founding member.
Mr Galal and Mr Nsouli are close family friends who first began to play padel together almost three years ago. Separately, Mr Galal had been looking for a site at which he and Mr El Reda could build a multi-purpose sports facility.
“What changed was Mo’s obsession with the game,” Mr El Reda explains. “Myself, I don’t play padel. But he stopped me one day and said: ‘If we want to really have an impact into this market, we should probably look at this up-and-coming sport’.”
The partners spent a full year looking for a suitable venue to build their own club and have built four championship-standard courts on a strip of land immediately adjacent to Sportsmania, whose facilities they share.
Mr Nsouli said that their decision to launch Padel Pro was due to the fact that they felt there was a gap in the market.
“We want the club to feel like a family atmosphere,” he said, just after the venue opened in late March.
“I was brought up in London. I was part of a tennis club and that was very social, and very interactive. There was men’s nights, women’s nights, ladies’ mornings, kids’, mixed doubles. And that’s exactly what we eventually want to incorporate into this club.”
The partners’ long-term goal is not only to develop the club in Dubai, but to establish Padel Pro as a brand that could operate several venues across the region.
“Yes, it’s a business. Yes, we’re trying to make money – of course, like anything,” says Mr Nsouli. “But at the same time we are trying to grow the game that we love.”
Mohammed Al Mutaiwei, the vice-president of the UAE Padel Association, says padel is a fast-growing sport in the UAE, but one that is growing organically. He says “there is a huge demand” for the padel courts at Nad Al Sheba, which are regularly booked out through the winter months, and that many players have built private courts at their own villas.
“It’s not a very aggressive game. It’s very easy on the body, the joints. It’s not like some other sport like squash which is very hard on the ankles,” he adds. “Anyone can play.”
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