x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rumaithi bites back

The president of the UAE Football Association has dismissed claims that the national team live on a diet of junk food.

The UAE squad train at Al Wasl in Dubai before their 7-2 friendly defeat to Germany on June 2.
The UAE squad train at Al Wasl in Dubai before their 7-2 friendly defeat to Germany on June 2.

DUBAI // Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi, the president of the UAE Football Association, has dismissed claims that the national team live on a diet of junk food. Salah Obaid, a former national team player and captain, claimed in an interview with The National that the players' fondness for junk food was the primary reason for their disastrous performance in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.

"You know what we eat for dinner and lunch?" said the Al Jazira midfielder. "We eat from McDonald's. Everyone eats from McDonald's. No good food." Al Rumaithi admitted he is surprised by Obaid's claim, saying: "I can assure you that the players eat well when they are with the national team," he said. "We have a full time nutritionist who travels with the team. "The food is designed and checked by him. It is not clear if Salah was referring to the players' time with the national team or their private, daily lives. If he is referring to the players' habits when they are away from the national team, we cannot control it. The players themselves have to realise such a diet will not help their football in anyway; it will harm them.

"But if he was suggesting that players eat junk food when they are with the national team, then that is a lie. I deny and condemn it. There is absolutely no truth in it. We cannot and will never allow such things in the national team. We have continually strived to educate the players about eating right and sleeping right. We have always emphasised these issues." Rumaithi said he would even invite The National along to the team's next training camp to "live with us and see for yourself" adding: "We have a separate mess and all the players eat together, without exception."

The FA have not spoken to Obaid about his comments and al Rumaithi sees no reason to reprimand the players in any way. "Maybe he is just sad that he has missed out on selection for the last few games," added al Rumaithi. "He has been the national team captain and it is unfortunate to hear him say this when he is on the verge of retirement." If the players are guilty of such habits in their private lives, al Rumaithi promised that the FA will step up efforts to educate them.

He said: "The players spend a lot more time with their clubs than the national team, and I am sure the clubs also emphasise a healthy diet. Still, we will go back to the clubs and start a campaign to educate the players. "We will hold lectures and educate the young players about the importance of food and how it can help lift their performances. "If someone is eating McDonald's, it is going to harm them. Their health and stamina will suffer if they eat junk food. We will need the help of not just the clubs, but the player's family and friends too. But you cannot teach a player who is 29 what to eat. We will focus on the youngsters and not on players who have already spent eight seasons with the national team."

arizvi@thenational.ae