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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

The UAE's decision to open up sports to expatriate players is a loud affirmation of its finest values

The spectacle of residents and citizens celebrating expat players will be a proud testament to our diversity

A decree in November from UAE President Sheikh Khalifa could pave the way for international players to compete on behalf of the UAE. Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters
A decree in November from UAE President Sheikh Khalifa could pave the way for international players to compete on behalf of the UAE. Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

Come September UAE residents, regardless of nationality, will be allowed to participate in all official sports in this country. This historic opening is the culmination of a directive promulgated last November by President Sheikh Khalifa, which cleared the way for the children of Emirati mothers and foreign fathers to participate in official UAE sporting competitions. On Monday, the Federal National Council approved regulations drafted by the UAE General Sports Authority, designed to grant all expatriates the privilege of competing for this country's many successful sports clubs. But more significantly, the decree could pave the way for UAE residents to compete in the very colours of the Emirates. To say that the effect of this decision on sport will be salutary would be an understatement. The UAE Football Association, along with the volleyball, handball and basketball federations – the first bodies to trial the new regulations – will soon be able to draw from a vastly expanded pool of talent. And the diversity that has enriched this country in every other sphere could soon enhance its performance in the international sporting arena.

The spectacle of foreign players representing the UAE would be a powerful testament to the country's historical commitment to inclusiveness. As Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithy, president of the General Sports Authority, said on Tuesday: “The expatriate community that has helped us to build the nation is now provided the opportunity to play a role in sports.” The move will deepen, in the words of Abdulla Naser Al Junaibi, vice-president of the Football Association, the UAE’s “engagement of all nationalities” who are proud to call this country their home. George Orwell once described sport as “mimic warfare”. In the UAE, it will instead become the bridge that unites people.

Picture, if you will, expatriate players being cheered on by residents and citizens alike as they score goals for the national team. It is hard to imagine a more powerful affirmation of the multiculturalism, co-existence and tolerance that Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE, championed his entire life. It is fitting that this historic decision should come into effect in the Year of Zayed.