Expatriates born or residing in the UAE will soon be eligible to represent the country in sports, similar to how the national cricket team has been since its formation in the 1980s.
UAE cricket hopeful of changing perceptions after President Sheikh Khalifa's decree
UAE cricket players hope the Presidential decree encouraging expatriate involvement in representative sport will help improve the perception of their game among Emiratis.
From September, men married to Emirati women, as well as children born in the UAE and any player who resides in the Emirates will be eligible to register for sports clubs and, potentially, represent the country.
The decree from the President, Sheikh Khalifa, was declared in November, and the Federal National Council approved the regulations and conditions drafted by the UAE General Sports Authority on Monday.
While the effects of the move could be transformative for football in particular, other sports such as cricket and rugby already have a large expatriate involvement - even at international level.
Since organised cricket first took hold in the Emirates in the 1980s, the game has been dominated by expatriates, particularly from the subcontinental community.
International Cricket Council rules, put simply, allow for players born in a country to play for that national team, as well as players who have been resident there for three or more years.
The national team currently competing at a Twenty20 tournament in Kuwait is peopled exclusively by Indian and Pakistani nationals. Some were born or raised in the UAE, while others arrived here as adults to work, and qualified to represent the team as per the ICC’s residency criteria.
Amjad Javed, 37, is a Pakistani national who has played for the UAE for the past 15 years. The fast bowler, whose family have lived in the UAE since his grandfather moved to Dubai to work for Dewa 52 years ago, dovetails working as a cargo loadmaster for Emirates Airline with playing cricket.
“I am airline staff, always flying, and when I cross immigration, they recognise me as someone who represents UAE,” Javed said.
“Then, once I give them my passport to stamp, they say: ‘Oh, you are Pakistani, not Emirati?’ I think that has to change.
"It is not about nationality, it is about the country I am representing, and the achievements I have brought for myself, my family, and everyone in UAE. I want to be recognised for those achievements, rather than my nationality.”
The national cricket team have played at two World Cups, one World T20, and last month claimed their first win against one of the sport’s established elite Test nations, against Zimbabwe in Harare.
Javed hopes the decree will help increase the awareness of their achievements.
“Let’s say a UAE cricketer who was born here, played at two World Cups, two Asia Cups, two [World Cup] Qualifiers, suddenly you are saying: ‘He can play’?” Javed said.
“How will he be feeling? He has already achieved those targets. You have to step out from football, and come and support other sports, and then we can achieve more goals together.
“In cricket, we have played two World Cups. In football, they have played just once. That is the reality. I think they have to come out and support us.”
Ahmed Raza, 29, is a Pakistani national who was born and raised in Sharjah. He represented the UAE at all age-group levels, before starting a distinguished career with the senior team 14 years ago
The spin bowler believes September’s start date for accepting expatriates into all sports teams could be a decisive moment for UAE cricket.
It coincides with the Asia Cup being staged in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Raza is hopeful that the UAE can qualify to play in it, meaning potential fixtures against the likes of India and Pakistan in front of as many as 25,000 supporters.
“That could be a breakthrough event if we qualify for the main tournament,” Raza said. “We should be inviting the right people to attend, so they can see the passion with which we are representing UAE.
“Even if somebody didn’t understand the sport, they will be able to understand the passion we are playing with, our determination, how we are diving around and putting our bodies on the line.
“For us to play against India or Pakistan, even though we are Pakistani citizens, the way will be playing against them will show we want to beat them.”