x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Appeal for stronger support of athletes

Sports officials took advantage of an audience with a committee of the Federal National Council to appeal for more funding and better facilities.

DUBAI // Sports officials yesterday took advantage of an audience with a committee of the Federal National Council (FNC) to appeal for more funding and better facilities to increase chances of international sporting success. Members of the council's education, youth, media and culture committee expressed surprise at the scale of problems the nation's sports organisations claimed they face. The committee was warned that without more support, including paid leave to accommodate athletes' training and competitions, the country could forget about winning medals at the London Olympics in 2012. And they complained that the best facilities and financial support went to football clubs. "We did not expect the problems would be at this scale," said Dr Amal al Qubaisi, the committee chairwoman, after the meeting in Dubai. "This makes us look for improving the situation." Dr Obaid al Muhairi, a member from Sharjah, said the Emirates appeared to lack a clear strategy to develop sport. "There is no clear goal, there is no clear federal plan," Dr al Muhairi said. "The problem is very big. We expected that sport has a great status since it was big before the federation, but until now we don't have clubs with international levels." The Government last year approved a law to regulate sport, but it went through without being referred to the FNC. The meeting was the third the committee has held since May in its effort to draft two reports to the council on the state of culture, youth and sport in the country. The first of the two reports, expected to be discussed before the end of the month, touches on cultural issues including national identity. The Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, Abdul Rahman al Owais, will take part in the discussion. The second report will discuss the policies of the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare. In September, the committee brought together more than 200 people in the FNC chambers where the perils facing the nation's identity were brought to light.

"The idea behind this meeting is to accentuate the council's role in keeping in touch with concerned parties when we discuss any subject," Dr al Qubaisi said. "There are challenges indeed and we, as the representatives of the people, translate them into practical solutions." But she and other members had previously expressed dismay to several officials over the lack of government support for some of the council's recommendations. Ahmad al Fardan, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee, said his budget proposals had been not met in nine years. Mr al Fardan said the committee's strategy for 2000-08 required an annual budget of Dh18 million (US$4.9m), while the strategy for 2007-12 needed Dh27m a year. He said it had received Dh9m a year. He said the UAE's first gold medal, won by Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum in the Olympics in 2004, and the performances of the eight UAE athletes at last year's Beijing Olympics were achieved by "mere individual efforts, without the support of any government bodies". "Three years is a very short period to prepare an Olympic athlete," said Mr al Fardan. "Qualifying for the Olympics is an achievement and we should give the athletes enough support so that they can do miracles." Lack of facilities was a common complaint for the officials, who represented individual and team sports other than football. Ahmad al Kamali of the UAE Martial Arts Association said: "The association has not had training facilities since it was created in 1976. We have to go use facilities of other organisations." mhabboush@thenational.ae