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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

A challenge to organise Adnoc Abu Dhabi Marathon amidst Club World Cup and Asian Cup, says Aref Al Awani

Abu Dhabi Sports Council's general secretary tells Amith Passela how his organisation has had to juggle multiple responsibilities in a busy sporting season

Aref Al Awani, secretary general of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, talks about the challenges of organising the marathon. Victor Besa / The National
Aref Al Awani, secretary general of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, talks about the challenges of organising the marathon. Victor Besa / The National

The stage has been set for the inauguration of the Adnoc Abu Dhabi Marathon on Friday.

And even as the i's are being dotted and t's crossed, it is worth recognising that plenty of work has gone into preparing for an elite event that falls under the auspices of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The marathon covers 42.195 kilometres and is open to both elite and amateur runners. In fact, the marathon and half-marathon have drawn from all over the world more than 40 top athletes vying for a share of the US$379,000 (Dh1.4 million) prize fund.

The idea of hosting it was conceptualised in 2014 as part of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council's (ADSC) five-year plan to hold several high-profile sporting events in the capital to help enhance the city's brand.

ADSC general secretary Aref Al Awani was also keen to have a broad range of events, particularly annual events, in the emirate.

“A marathon was missing from a city that hosts a number of high-profile sporting events," Al Awani told The National. "We discussed it a lot, and we felt we needed to have this stamp on Abu Dhabi."

But the ADSC had a lot on its plate: the Fifa Club World Cup, AFC Asian Cup, HSBC Golf Championship, ITU World Triathlon, Abu Dhabi Tour and Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship.

So the question of organising the marathon was not so much a matter of if than when.

Two years ago, however, it received a new impetus after IAAF president Sebastian Coe's visit to the emirate.

“We discussed our plan with him, and he requested us to expedite the plan without any delay,” Al Awani said.

It has admittedly not been easy to organise the marathon, given that the ADSC has had to devote time, energy and effort into getting the Club World Cup (December 12-22) and the Asian Cup (January 5-February 1) off the ground as well. There was no wiggle room with regard to scheduling either, with December presenting the ideal weather conditions to host the races.

Quite naturally, Al Awani - who is also executive director of the local organising committees of the Club World Cup and Asian Cup - conceded it was a “big challenge” overseeing the ADSC's multiple responsibilities.

“When we first started to plan the marathon early this year, we thought it was the right time to go on and make the announcement, but then we came under a little bit pressure to the time we committed,” Al Awani said.

The important thing, though, is he appears satisfied with the preparations. “We believe all that has to be done has been done for a successful first marathon in Abu Dhabi," he said.

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Read more:

Adnoc Abu Dhabi Marathon: All you need to know about the races on Friday

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Al Awani revealed another challenge would be to fill the roads during the marathon's first iteration.

“Every sport has its own audiences and participation,” he said. "We are hopeful to have good numbers, going by the registrations.

“But at the same time, these challenges are good for us to build for our marathon next year," he added. “We have been hosting many world-class events but we haven’t stopped learning every passing year."

The ADSC also intends for the marathon to help support community programmes, including road races, as a part of the government’s push for good health and a positive lifestyle among its citizens.

“The marathon is another whole new experience," Al Awani said. "Of course, we have the specialised event managers in each field of sports, but there is always room for improvement. That’s what we want to achieve every event we host and every passing year.

"Hopefully everything will become easier in terms of preparation and the timing,” he said.