x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The UAE Olympic team is uniting families

Father and sons, mothers and daughters watch the games together, and the success is helping to grow interest in football with Emirati women.

Women do attend football matches in this country, but, our columnist says, most seem more comfortable watching at home. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
Women do attend football matches in this country, but, our columnist says, most seem more comfortable watching at home. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National

My sisters never watch football. But they invited all their friends to our home last week to watch the UAE beat Australia in their crucial Olympic qualifying match.

This says it all about how much the game's popularity has increased among women in this country.

If you ask young Emirati women if they know any players in the Olympic team, do not be surprised if, in a split-second, they name Omar Abdulrahman, Hamdan Al Kamali, Ahmed Khalil and others.

The team's success has brought families together across the nation as fathers and sons, mothers and daughters watch the games together. Every Emirati football fan is proud of the team's quest for the Olympics this summer, including the women.

"I am much more interested in the Olympic team than the senior team," said Latifa, a 26 year old who is an abaya designer in Al Ain.

"The idea that this young team is going to make history by going to the London Olympics just makes me proud."

Mothers are getting involved, too.

"My mum is a huge football fan just like me," said Salma, a 24-year-old pilot for Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi. "She had to go to Dubai during the game but she kept calling me every 15 minutes asking for updates on how the game is going and if we scored a goal."

Women also joined the excitement on Twitter and Facebook during and after the Australia game. Fans young and old, male and female, are talking about the team.

"Proud to be an Emirati and I hope UAE makes history by qualifying to London 2012," said Fatima Harib on Twitter.

Other young Emirati women are already looking forward to the next game on March 14.

"I cannot wait for the final game against Uzbekistan," said Noora, a 17-year-old high school pupil in Al Ain.

"I want to watch it live but since they are not playing here we have already planned to watch it at my friend's place. Almost all of my class will be there."

The increase in the popularity of football among women is one thing, but the challenge of convincing them to visit the stadium remains a huge one.

There were several dozen women at the UAE versus Australia game, mostly sitting in the family section with male relatives and children. But most Emirati women, it seems, are more comfortable watching the games in their home.

"I like to watch the games at home with friends so we can have our own little party cheering the team," Latifa said. "All my friends came over; we were about 12, and we ordered pizza, chocolates, soft drinks, music and were celebrating and dancing when we won.

"We want more of this, and we are waiting for the next game."

Last September in Turkey, a pitch invasion at a pre-season game by the fans of Fenerbahce led to the team's male fans being banned from their next two matches. Free tickets were given to women and boys ages 12 or younger, and only they were allowed to attend the games.

A record 41,000 women showed up for the next game. The atmosphere was so lively that rival players were applauded rather than jeered, and the home team captain, Alex de Souza, said "this memory will stay with me forever".

I asked a few Emirati women if they would be interested in attending games if the UAE football authorities organised something similar, and the response was very positive. They loved the idea of having a match in which only women and children could attend.

"I prefer to go only with my family because it is safer for any match, but not with my female friends," Salma said.

"If they organise a game where only women and children can go then that will be amazing. All my friends and I will definitely go to the stadium."




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