x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Family fun at the heart of Al Ain’s Big Kick Off festival

A whole host of activities were on offer for children at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, including a giant inflatable jump, wall-climbing, trampolines, as well as a colourful pre-match parade.

There were plenty of attractions to keep fans happy pre-match. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
There were plenty of attractions to keep fans happy pre-match. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

AL AIN // At the blow of a whistle, a stampede of feet broke in the freshly laid turf at the launch of Al Ain FC’s new ground on Friday.

Thousands of fans crowded into Hazza bin Zayed Stadium for the first match there, with the home side – the defending Arabian Gulf League champions – playing against Al Dhafra.

The game marked the second day of the three-day Big Kickoff festival to celebrate the opening of the arena.

Ahead of the match, football fans spoke of their excitement at visiting the new 25,000-seater stadium.

“It is a very nice stadium, the best in the UAE and maybe the Gulf,” said Emirati Abdulla Al Abdouli, an Al Ain fan who travelled from Fujairah to watch the match with three friends.

The colourful pre-match parade saw a giant lizard, camel, horse, falcon and desert hare do a lap of the stadium accompanied by jugglers and stilt walkers, while football fans chanted support for their favourite team.

“Al Ain, Al Ain, Al Ain,” shouted Abod Dardouri, a 33-year-old Moroccan who was cheering on his team with 20 of his friends.

Thousands of families from across the country also attended the festival at the stadium, described by developers as “the region’s most advanced sporting arena” .

The venue was created for families as well as football fans, and a major goal of the project is to promote healthy living.

Activities at the Big Kickoff, which is free to attend and concludes today, include juggling, BMX biking, bungee runs, stamina training, tennis, basketball, table tennis and wall-climbing.

Hussam Bassam Ghazool, 13, visited with his three school friends.

Standing in line for the trampoline, the Syrian said he wanted to play tennis and go on the ‘Big Jump’ giant inflatable.

“We heard about the festival everywhere – the internet, from friends – and we wanted to come,” said Hussam.

Siblings Avery Hamrick, 13, and 11-year-old brother Carter took the plunge and jumped the 10 metres from the top of the Big Jump into the mattress below.

“It was scary but worth it,” said Carter, from North Carolina, in the United States.

Avery said: “When I jumped off, I could not hold my breath until I hit the ground.”

Ghanaian Bassam, 32, a mother of three from Palestine, watched on as her two sons, Yousuf, 10, and Abdulla, 8, showed off their football dribbling skills.

“They have really enjoyed it,” said Ms Bassam. “They see the games as fun and dangerous and they have wanted to do them all.”

Hamda Al Kaabi, a pupil at Al Ain Girls School, was part of the Fazaa volunteer programme that helped to coordinate the children’s activities.

“We love our country so it is important to help out,” the 16-year-old Emirati said.

The festival was divided into five major zones, depicted by desert animals that best represent the different elements of sports.

About 4,000 people attended the festival on Friday, with about 20,000 attending the match.