x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

New law to encourage sportsmen

Emirati athletes will get paid leave to train and compete, helping them to bring home glory.

A new law giving Emirati athletes paid leave to train and compete will help them bring home international glory, sportsmen said yesterday. Athletes have said the law, which was decreed by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE, would enable them to focus more on sporting excellence.

Sporting bodies are now being informed of the law, which was decreed last month and also has provisions for those involved in arts and cultural programmes for the Government. For Mohammed Tauqir, 37, who has been juggling his duties as a national cricket team member with his full-time job at an international bank, it was very timely news. "We are approaching a major World Cup qualifying tournament taking place in South Africa in April and I was not going, to save my job," Tauqir said yesterday.

"The market conditions are very tough and job security is bad. We see people being let go right, left and centre. I will need to approach the authorities to discuss what this may mean for me. "Most of the cricketers, whether Emiratis or expatriates, are not professional here. Everyone is also working for a living." Tauqir, who has used annual or unpaid leave to compete for more than 10 years, believed the law would create greater job security for Emirati athletes, which would lead to greater commitment and performance on the sporting fields.

Mohammed Rahma, the first Emirati rugby player to don an Arabian Gulf Sevens guernsey, is also a national development manager for a private company, and said he hoped the law would allow more Emiratis to participate in sport. "We have four players in my team who work and we cannot get them games because they are all stuck in work," Rahma said. "More than 10 people left the club when they stopped studying and got jobs because they could not get time off."

Rahma said competing with international teams that train together twice a day in the run-up to tournaments left his side disadvantaged. "We finish work at 4.30pm or 5pm and when we get to training we are already exhausted," he said. "I can't even do my own training because when I finish work I need to go to sleep, and when I wake up, it's really hard to focus. "This new approach will help us a lot, getting the UAE national teams to win more trophies."

A translation of the law reads: "The minister, or his delegate, may grant the UAE citizen employee an exceptional sabbatical leave with full pay, in fulfilment of any preparatory activity towards participation in national teams, competitions, sports, socio-cultural programmes, or any such reasons relating directly to the work of the employee's ministry; this upon request of the official authorities concerned and for the period they determine."

It is unclear which Government body will handle applications for leave. Some companies and government departments already offer leave to employees with sporting commitments to their countries. Emirates Airline offers "special paid leave" to employees participating in recognised national or international events. "Employees competing in certain sports events are given a number of hours depending on the nature of the representation and number of days involved," the company said in a statement.

A senior staff member in the sports management department of Dubai's General Authority for Youth and Sports Welfare, confirmed he had been informed of the new law. He said the authority was expecting further details from the capital in the next couple of weeks, and the law could be fully implemented in Dubai within four months. loatway@thenational.ae