x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Women's support for their national football team should be encouraged

I fail to see how Emirati women who sit among other women in the stands while cheering on the national team can be a bad thing.

The UAE’s national football team is back in the spotlight once again.

Thanks to a convincing group stage in this year’s Gulf Cup where the national side won all of their three matches overcoming Qatar, Oman and the hosts Bahrain, football fever is back in the Emirates.

Although the latest, this is not the first time the UAE has found success in the regional competition, having previously reached the semi-finals without a loss in 2010 and in more glorious fashion, won the whole shebang on home soil in 2007.

But what this competition did provide a first for was Emirati female fans travelling abroad in support of their team.

Despite being present in abundance on their home turf during UAE football’s crowning tournament in 2007, Emirati women had never been observed cheering on Al Abyad (The Whites) across borders.

This all changed during UAE’s second game of the 2013 competition.

Another significant chapter of UAE football history was written not only when Majed Hassan scored the late winner against Bahrain, which sent The Whites to the semis, but also when 25 Emirati female fans joined the hundreds of travelling Emirati fans.

These 25 devoted fans who, with the assistance of the UAE Football Association and the accompaniment of 25 chaperones, received even more support from the UAE community at large.

Many hailed the inclusion of Emirati women in yet another activity which promotes the UAE on a regional and international level.

But there were others who voiced their displeasure with the images of Emirati women celebrating UAE’s victory in the stands that day.

Some thought the spectacle ran against Emirati traditions and values and did not signify a moment of development, while others believed it silly that women would take their support on the road, preferring they cheered at home.

There were even those who believed that female fans abroad distorted the image of the UAE, showing a side not native to Emirati culture. It is true that our culture’s sensitivities must be considered in instances such as this and we must be careful not to tarnish the image of the UAE on a grand stage such as this one.

But I fail to see how Emirati women who have received permission and backing from their families, who are escorted by family members throughout their entire journey and who sit among other women in the stands while cheering on the national team can be a bad thing.

Because the UAE football team are an essential tool in encouraging and building a national sense of pride, they should receive all the support they can get.

Although sufficient funding and top-quality training are crucial elements of success, a football team thrives on the screams and chants of their fans, especially when they play away.

The more fans, the better.

The UAE has made huge strides in the advancement and inclusion of its female population in Emirati society and is a regional leader of gender equality. Emirati women can now be found in all facets of society and I see no reason not to include them in this one.

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US