x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gazelle gets children on the ball

Sightings of a man-sized, fluffy Arabian dhabi at malls, parks and stadiums in the capital are causing much excitement among children.

Children play with a man-sized Arabian dhabi (gazelle), the mascot of the Fifa Club World Cup tournament, after it was unveiled by the organisers.
Children play with a man-sized Arabian dhabi (gazelle), the mascot of the Fifa Club World Cup tournament, after it was unveiled by the organisers.

ABU DHABI // Sightings of a man-sized, fluffy Arabian dhabi - a type of indigenous gazelle - at malls, parks and stadiums in the capital are causing much excitement among children. And organisers of the forthcoming Fifa Club World Cup are delighted. To promote the 11-day tournament, which kicks off on December 9, Fifa has made the Arabian dhabi the competition's official mascot.

The mascot - actually a volunteer in a costume of the gazelle - is also being used to generate interest in football among children. "Grassroots development ... is an important part of the legacy we hope the tournament will leave behind," said Shatha al Romaithi, the spokeswoman for the tournament's local organising committee. "We want to expand local children's knowledge and interest in football and therefore encourage them to lead more active, healthy lifestyles. Creating a mascot has helped us to engage with children on a more direct level."

The mascot is appearing as part of the Club World Cup trophy bus tour to promote the tournament. It will visit Global Village in Dubai today, followed by the Rugby Sevens until Saturday. It will then head to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup, where it will greet spectators outside stadiums and appear on the pitch before each match. UAE Football Association coaches are also on the trophy tour to promote football among children. They have already held more than 10 coaching classes for about 1,000 youngsters, organised by the Mubadala Development Company.

The last coaching class will be held today at Global Village. In October, Mubadala announced its sponsorship of the Fifa Club World Cup and the UAE FA national teams. Its commitments extend beyond sponsorships to development initiatives, particularly youth development programmes, said Sultan al Damarki, a senior official at Mubadala who is responsible for football sponsorship. The Fifa Club World Cup will feature footballing giants such as Champions League cup holders Barcelona from Spain, and Copa Libatadores winners Estudiantes from Argentina.

They will be up against opponents including Al Ahli, the current UAE Premier League title holders, and the Champions League winners Atlante from Mexico. Mr al Damarki said the glamour such clubs bring to the competition provided the ideal platform on which to build interest among young people: "There is no better time to get children across the UAE involved in football." @Email:mchung@thenational.ae