x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Five-star pitch for footballers

Full-sized ground in a grand setting will be built as part of preparations for the Club World Cup, but with an eye on the long term, too.

The Emirates Palace hotel is the backdrop for a football match between the Abu Dhabi Strollers and Emirates Palace last October.
The Emirates Palace hotel is the backdrop for a football match between the Abu Dhabi Strollers and Emirates Palace last October.

ABU DHABI // The world's best footballers will have a romantic Arabian backdrop to inspire them when they train on a new pitch at the Emirates Palace hotel ahead of December's Fifa Club World Cup. Announcing the project to build the pitch yesterday, the competition's local organising committee said it would be one of the highest-quality ever constructed by a hotel and be among eight official training grounds during the tournament.

The pitch will be surrounded by a natural grass amphitheatre to provide protection as well as privacy and seating. It will also later be used by local footballers. "The main aim is to encourage young people to play sport, and to help older generations rediscover their enthusiasm," said a committee official. "To do this, we are developing plans that are aimed at education, participation, and most importantly enjoyment. This pitch will be a permanent reminder to all tourists that we are a community that loves sport."

The organisers said local interest in the tournament was growing, and so far there were four confirmed participants from a total of seven. They are the UAE champions Al Ahli; the European Champions League winners Barcelona; the Oceania champions Auckland City from New Zealand; and Atlante FC from Mexico, the champions of the Central and North American region. "We know that some games will be more popular than others in terms of stadium support. However, with the excitement being drummed up across the country we anticipate that there will be few seats left spare," said the official.

He added: "Members of the UAE's FC Barcelona Fan Club are all incredibly excited that their team is coming to the UAE for the first time. Meanwhile, the match venues, Abu Dhabi's Zayed Stadium and Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, are both being refurbished in preparation for the tournament. Special grass from Panama, chosen for its robustness, its ability to retain moisture and its uniformity of colour, is being planted in the stadiums using a hi-tech process known as hydro-sprigging, often used when building golf courses.

Seedlings in a nutrient-rich wrapping are sprayed over the pitch, which is treated with a substance that allows the soil to retain water underground and encourages the roots to grow downwards rather than along the surface, enabling the grass to stand up better to wear and tear. Over the coming months the pitches will go through 15 tests by an agronomist to ensure that they satisfy standards for ball bounce, evenness and grass colour.

These tests will take into account the varying levels of sand in the soil as well as air flow through the stadium. tspender@thenational.ae