x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A sports visa could bridge the gap

Chris Cairns says members of the UAE squad have to work as well as play and steps need to be taken towards full-time contracts.

Mohammed Abid cuts a lonely figure as he watches a match between the UAE and  the USA in the World Twenty20 qualifier at Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi, this month.
Mohammed Abid cuts a lonely figure as he watches a match between the UAE and the USA in the World Twenty20 qualifier at Zayed Cricket Stadium, Abu Dhabi, this month.

Members of the UAE squad have to work as well as play and steps need to be taken towards full-time contracts, writes Chris Cairns So today was going to be about the nuggety little Tasmanian with more hair on his forearms than Teen Wolf. But Ricky Ponting will have to wait for another time as there is a more pressing, current and regional issue that I would like to discuss. Last Friday the missus and I decided to have a few friends around for an old fashioned barbecue at our house. As invitations got out of control we ended up with 30 people, nine kids, three dogs, five scooters and a random cat.

Being an antipodean who patrols his BBQ with the ferocity of a lion that has not eaten for a week guarding a wildebeest it has just killed, I set about cooking enough food to feed a small army. Now I take pride in my BBQ culinary skills. There may not be such a thing but I do take it seriously. What I love about BBQ cooking is that it is very forgiving. You can explain a burned lamb chop as slightly charcoaled or a darkened sausage as slightly over done.

If I wanted to become better, even professional, in the cooking department and produce better results, I would need to give it considerably more time. But to do this something else in my life would have to be sacrificed. Professionalism and sacrifice to obtain a new direction is where UAE cricket currently sits. The UAE won all their pool games in the just concluded Associates Twenty20 competition held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. No mean feat considering they were an invitee, a wild-card if you like, to the tournament and everyone else had qualified. After the pool, all that was required was to win one of their remaining two games and they would have been on the plane to the West Indies to play against the big boys in the ICC World T20 in April and May this year. Unfortunately, they fell at this last hurdle and, sadly, the Caribbean dream evaporated before their eyes.

Among the benefits of the UAE team entering an international tournament for the first time since 1995 would have been the players competing and rubbing shoulders with the world's best, exposing them to a professional environment and seeing what is required to perform at that level. There are also funding bonuses from the ICC that accompany an Associate team qualifying for such tournaments. And there is a revenue share in the tournament itself as well as prize money on offer for those competing, not to mention live TV exposure for the region.

The UAE team are made up primarily of Indian and Pakistan ex-patriates. These men fulfil the ICC residential qualifications to play for the UAE by having resided here in the Emirates for seven or more years. I also believe you can have two players who have four years' residential qualification. Other Associate member countries have passport holders representing them, even though these people live in another country. This is where the UAE will always have a distinct disadvantage because it is very tough to gain a passport from this region if you are not born here. The only way the current team members can play for the UAE is if their work visa allows them to reside here. But this is an interesting conundrum, because for these men to play here they have to hold down a job then commit to the many training sessions and matches involved. Then there are the tournaments they have to travel to around the world, thus missing more work and potentially jeopardising their income source.

I believe that for the UAE to start pushing for higher honours they need to begin the process of having professional contracts for some of their players. Associate member countries like Ireland are contracting players, as are Holland and Kenya and the Afghanistan team, I am sure, would have full-time players. With no Arabic players to the fore in the UAE team this is a sticky situation. I would love to see the game harnessed in this region because I firmly believe with the close proximity to India there is real growth potential for the sport. There needs to be Arabic players that local children identify with and see as heroes. That's how you grow the game. That is how you attract the stars of tomorrow.

But back to today is how we get to tomorrow. It would be great if the next step was for the UAE to offer full-time contracts to around three senior players. Two lesser full-time contracts would also be given to under-21 hopefuls. Of course where it gets tricky is the visa side of things, and there needs to be a sports specific visa so these players can train and practice full time along with the two youngsters. If close to half your team are full time this is a good start. The rest of the squad need to see there is a pathway for them to make a career out of cricket and strive to obtain one of the sporting visas.

This is another reason the UAE suffer because talented youngsters, including some who were born here, leave the region once their family visa is up to pursue study opportunities for future employment. If there was a chance these youngsters could gain employment by playing cricket and having a sports visa, then it would definitely strengthen the stock of players in the UAE, and competition breeds talent.

Each year there would be one further contract added until you had 15 full-time players. This would be a 10-year plan but to create something like this you need time and funds. You also need the backing of authorities to share the vision of taking the game forward. One potential pitfall is what happens should a player lose form and then possibly not gain a contract? How would he obtain a visa to stay in the country? There could be a visa that allows you six months to find employment to stay in the region after you have lost your sporting visa, until such time that contracts are awarded again the following year.

These ideas are quite fanciful, but without discussions things can sometimes remain unachievable. One must also remember that a sporting career is one of the riskiest occupations you can embark upon. But looking beyond now, who disagrees that in 10 years' time, instead of hosting an England match, it could actually be England versus the UAE in a Test match? Certainly not I. @Email:sports@thenational.ae