Beach sports park in league of its own
ABU DHABI // On Al Sahil Beach on the Corniche, an expanse of white sand near Gate 4 is the setting for fresh efforts to bring more community-based sports and recreational activities to the capital.
Complete with volleyball nets, portable lighting and pavilions for yoga and pilates classes, the new beachfront facility is home to sports leagues offering up a chance to play everything from football and volleyball to beach cricket and netball.
"How many places can you have year-round - or at least 10 months out of the year - sports and activities going on outdoors?" asked Derv Rao, the co-founder and director of operations for Duplays, which operates the new beach sports park on the Corniche.
"There's never really been social sports here," Mr Rao said. "Everyone cares about football, and activities are catered to men, and then only the extremely athletic men. We don't want to organise only these competitive sports. We want to cater to men, women and children of all skill levels."
Duplays, the main provider of social, recreational and competitive sports leagues, began operating in Abu Dhabi in the past year. The new beach sports facility is the first big project for the organisation, which offers 10 different sports and activities at three capital locations.
"The municipality came to us because they wanted to activate the Corniche in the evenings," Mr Rao said. "There needs to be some place people could go every night of the week."
This year, the municipality plans to accelerate their promotion of activities along the Corniche.
"This vision of the Corniche Beach is 'to create a world-class waterfront destination'. The government of Abu Dhabi foresees this city as a place for people to live, work and play," said Omar al Busaidy, an events expert with the municipality. "Enhancing the outdoor facilities will help Abu Dhabi to become one of the top five cities in the world."
Mr al Busaidy said the municipality would undergo a "massive marketing campaign" to inform beachgoers of activities planned for the Corniche such as more recreational facilities and restaurants.
A new session of Duplays's beach leagues begin in mid-January and individuals and teams can sign up. For future sessions, Mr Rao wants to offer fitness classes and training sessions for children and adults.
"There's a huge lack of sports facilities in Abu Dhabi," he said. "Parks are up, but they're not active in the evenings. There's no lights. We need pitches and fields, and the municipality is making an effort, and what we're trying to do here is to encourage everyone of every skill level, of every community, to get involved in sports."
At the heart of the Duplays's philosophy is inclusiveness and civic engagement. Fun and fitness were not the only goals, the activities were also meant to foster community spirit, Mr Rao said. "We have a long way to go, because we need to get the word out," he said. "We want to turn this place into a community with an active lifestyle."
The Corniche facility will also include outdoor gym equipment in the new year. When leagues are not playing, the beach sport park can be reserved for personal use. The redevelopment of part of the Corniche farther west on the beachfront is ongoing, but more recreational facilities may be in the works there after design plans are finalised this year.
Leagues typically run once a week for 10 weeks and cost from about Dh300 for individuals and up to Dh2,000 for teams, depending on the sport. Duplays expects to attract as many as 100 participants a night to their activities in the coming year, which includes themed nights such as "Tuesday Teachers Night" and "Meet Your Neighbour" along with women- and children-only leagues.
Leagues are open to anyone living in Abu Dhabi regardless of age, gender or sporting ability. Residents can sign up at abudhabi.duplays.com.