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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 July 2018

'Remarkable gesture': Jiu-jitsu fighter Faisal Al Ketbi welcomes Presidential decree to allow more expat involvement in UAE sports

But the Emirati martial artist also appreciates the sport's governing body in the country for its success in attracting and nurturing quality Emirati talent

Faisal Al Ketbi, right, is one of the UAE's finest ever jiu-jitsu fighters. Victor Besa / The National
Faisal Al Ketbi, right, is one of the UAE's finest ever jiu-jitsu fighters. Victor Besa / The National

Faisal Al Ketbi has welcomed the decree from the President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, to allow foreigners to represent national sports teams, calling it a “remarkable gesture” to provide everyone the opportunity to raise the level of competitions.

The Presidential decree announced last November comes into effect in September, even as local clubs and federations have already started the registration process.

“There are many benefits for the UAE sports federations to gain from this decree,” Al Ketbi said after receiving the Emirati Black Belt Jiu-Jitsu Player of the Year award at Emirates Palace on Sunday.

“Bigger squads will create more competition and as a result raise the bar in every sport. This is only one aspect of it, but there are many good things that will come out of this.”

However, Al Ketbi said there is no shortage of Emirati fighters coming through the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s (UAEJJF) pathway programmes.

“Our federation was one step ahead on the Presidential decree,” Al Ketbi said. “They were prepared and had included players born to Emirati mothers married to foreigners to attend training and participate under the UAE flag at the World Pro last week.

“However, these fighters haven’t reached the high levels the Emirati fighters have reached. Perhaps it will take time, but it’s still a welcome gesture to improve our sports overall.”

There are more than 600 Brazilian black belt holders residing in the country - some of them for nearly 10 years - but Al Ketbi said the federation has invested more on local talent.

“Our government has already invested a lot on Emiratis, and they are keen to take them forward [rather] than trying to find a short cut by recruiting foreigners living in the country,” he pointed out.

The UAEJJF helped introduce the martial art in the public school curriculum in Abu Dhabi, as well as to the Armed Forces and Police Department. These moves have resulted in more than 120,000 Emiratis practising jiu-jitsu.

Al Ketbi has put behind him the disappointment of missing out on a gold medal at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship on Saturday. He has already shifted his focus on a raid at the Asian Games, to be held in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2.

“I felt I let the home fans and my federation down, especially when they were celebrating 10 years of the World Pro and 10 years in the competition for me as well,” he said.

Al Ketbi, 31, was beaten by Brazilian Isaque Braz, 22, in the black belt 85-kilogram final at the Mubadala Arena.

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“Now that’s behind me,” he said. “I’m looking ahead for the Asian Games. This is going to be the biggest challenge for me, to win medals for my country in the continent’s biggest sporting spectacle.”

The UAEJJF has already short-listed 32 fighters to partake in a month-long camp in Los Angeles during the first week of July. The women’s squad includes 20 fighters, who will train in a camp in Abu Dhabi.

“The Asian Games is the most important competition for many reasons,” Al Ketbi said. “First of all, we’ll try to win as many medals as possible for our country. It’s important for both our federation and the Olympic Committee of Asia to take it forward to the Olympics.

“With the participation of other countries in the continent, we want to make a strong claim through the national federations - and with the help of the OCA for jiu-jitsu - to be included in the Olympics.”