x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fans in the stands

Paying supporters to attend a game makes sense, in a way. But locking fans out of the stadium on the night of a match does not.

It may be the world game, claiming a total of 3.5 billion followers, but interest in the local football league is not quite so intense. The stands are often empty - even though, as The National reported last month, some Pro League clubs pay people up to Dh50 each to attend games. There are also Dh25 bonuses on offer for those who sing, clap and chant throughout the match. In some cases, clubs throw in free food and beverages.

Asked about these payments, a league spokesman said the competition was in its infancy, having only turned professional five years ago, and that the mindset of fans in a society famed for its hospitality was that they should not have to pay for tickets.

But now there's a twist. At Al Jazira FC's 33,000-capacity Abu Dhabi stadium on Monday night, the gates were locked, preventing many fans - some of whom had travelled from Al Ain - from entering the grounds. Supporters went home to watch the game on television, and saw that the stands were nearly empty.

Whatever the reason for this, it seems perplexing that any sporting league trying to build up a fan base would turn people away. If football is to thrive in the stadiums, it must start by looking after the grassroots fans.