x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Dirty work doesn't stop at Zayed Sports City

Two crews of 40 workers labour before, during and after matches at the stadium to prepare it for the next match.

Mohammed Noursal cleans the ground at Zayed Sports City after every match.
Mohammed Noursal cleans the ground at Zayed Sports City after every match.

ABU DHABI // As soon as the final whistle blew on Thursday night, there was another team ready to come out onto the pitch. 

They were not superstars or national heroes but the unsung army of cleaners who emerge to make the stadium ready for tonight's big football game between the UAE and Chile. 

A team of 40 worked through the night to clean up the eight-and-a-half tonnes of waste produced by the more than 20,000 fans who watched Brazil beat Iran 3-0.

This is in addition to another squad of 40 workers who had busily cleaned up during the match at Zayed Sports City to make the final push less time-consuming. Cleaning up costs as much as the event's security, and these are the most expensive elements of laying on an event of this scale, said the director of the clean-up operation, Darren Carter. 

Four skips and two trucks remove the 75,000 paper cups, 50,000 paper wrappers and 5,000 popcorn pots. The two crews of 40 clean up both during and after the match, no mean feat at the 1.2 million square metre site.

The fans leave not only rubbish but also everything from mobile phones to gold watches and from clothing items to jewellery. 

"We always do the clean-up the night of the game because if the wind gets at the rubbish, it can damage the grass," said Iain Campbell, the director of operations. 

The operation extends not just to the pitch and terraces, but also to every corner of the site - the car parks, television studios, royal box, hospitality suites and right down to the dirty towels in the players' changing rooms.

As the excited fans took their seats, blowing whistles and waving their nations' flags, few would have realised it had taken 12 days to make the stadium ready.

"We had to power wash every single seat, every single pane of glass, every camera so security has a full view of everything, and every light, because it's been a while since there's been a game," said Mr Campbell. 

"This stadium's 30 years old so it needs constant love and attention."

Waell Mahaini, 30, from Syria, has been part of the clean-up operations at Zayed Sports City for five years, working for West Coast cleaning contractors.

During that time he has got to see his heroes FC Barcelona during the Fifa Club World Cup as well as a tennis match pitting Rafael Nadal against Roger Federer at the Capitala tournament. On Thursday night, he was overseeing the night team for the tough post-match clean-up.

"I enjoy these events," he said. "It's nice to see and be a part of the action. 

This game isn't half as bad as some others have been. When Barcelona played, the stadium was full so after that match, it was crazy." 

With this match, he says the cleaners got off lightly. For the UAE and local team games he said fans throw ticker tape and confetti, small pieces of paper in the colours of their team. "For that, we have to get special vacuum machinery to save time," he said. "It gets everywhere on the pitch and in the stadium."