x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Low attendances are a worry for game in UAE

Luring people away from cinemas and shopping malls and to Pro League games is a challenge - and it is being addressed by the chairman of Al Nasr Sports Club.

Sparse attendances have become routine for football matches at Al Nasr's Dubai ground.
Sparse attendances have become routine for football matches at Al Nasr's Dubai ground.

Luring people away from cinemas and shopping malls and to Pro League games is a challenge - and it is being addressed by the chairman of Al Nasr Sports Club, Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum. Attendances at Al Nasr football games, according to Sheikh Maktoum, have dropped from the 30,000 range in the1970s to as low as a few hundred at times last season. And the average across the Pro League, hailed as the introduction of professionalism to the game in the UAE, was 2,120, he added.

Sheikh Maktoum is keen to return to the old days. "Back then there weren't cinemas, there weren't movies, there weren't shopping malls," he said. "With all the entertainment sectors around the country becoming more and more popular, we have to compete with alternate means of entertainment. "Our goal is really to popularise football culture. Bring the youth, create heroes, bring fans together, bring the passion of football back into the population. We are also looking at different avenues to bring expatriates to the football ground."

Al Nasr have created an honorary council of 63 members, who will look at other sports, such as cricket and motorsport, for inspiration. "Twenty20 cricket and the F1 Grand Prix show you what can be done," said Sheikh Maktoum. "There are other things as well. For example, they say you cannot have closed bottles of water inside the stands, so we are looking to provide open glasses, just like they do in the US, filled with water for our fans."

The Al Jazira club, based in Abu Dhabi, have been holding prize draws for the past four years, and their spokesman, Khaled al Omari, said attendances have doubled from around 3,000 to 6,000 a game. Entrance to Jazira games is free. "We have presented cars and valuable electronics and gift items at every home game," he said. "But there is no better way of drawing the crowd than high-profile signings and more importantly the results. If the team start to win then the crowds will definitely come."

Football isn't the only sport suffering from sparse crowds. Abu Dhabi Harlequins, the rugby union side who compete in the Arabian Gulf Super Nine League and put on free coaches for travelling fans, compete in front of crowds of less than 100. The UAE Falcons, the national rugby league side, had around 100 spectators at their two recent games against Liban Espoir. arizvi@thenational.ae apassela@thenational.ae