x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE and City pitch in together for LA

Proof that 'somebody cares' as children from under-privileged area given 'field of dreams'

More than 2,500 chlldren will benefit from the synthetic pitch in Los Angeles, which was offered as a gift by the UAE Embassy in Washington and Manchester City Football Club. Below, the UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, opens the City Soccer facility on Wednesday.
More than 2,500 chlldren will benefit from the synthetic pitch in Los Angeles, which was offered as a gift by the UAE Embassy in Washington and Manchester City Football Club. Below, the UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, opens the City Soccer facility on Wednesday.

LOS ANGELES // It will be a "field of dreams" for children living on the mean streets of East Los Angeles.

A new state-of-the-art football pitch was presented this week by the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington DC and Manchester City Football Club as a gift to the Boys and Girls Club of East Los Angeles.

It was unveiled on a rare rain-drenched day in LA but the weather could do little to dampen the spirits of the thrilled and grateful community.

The Manchester City team - currently level on points at the top of the English Premier League - were unable to attend but sent along a video message from star midfielder David Silva.

"I'm very happy for you to have this new pitch and I hope one day you will come and play for Manchester City with me," he told the delighted children.

The UAE Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, a keen footballer himself, was guest of honour at the ceremony.

"I used to play in high-school and then at college in Georgetown University from 1991-1995 so I love being here to see the children's faces.

"It's that kind of feeling you can't replicate and you can't really translate into words."

Mr Al Otaiba said they had looked around for areas in the US that were under-privileged and under-resourced. "We did some research and we found that this was a community that needs something like this," he said.

The new synthetic "Field Turf" pitch will directly benefit more that 2,500 children in LA and is the second such "City Soccer" initiative the embassy has taken part in partnered with Manchester City.

In 2010 the "City Soccer" initiative kicked off a first-of-its-kind football field on the rooftop of Lexington Academy in Spanish Harlem, New York.

"The field here is for the same reason we did it in New York - there are some places that don't have enough room or enough facilities," Mr Al Otaiba said.

"This isn't a big project or a big deal for us but it will provide much more for these children than what it cost us.

"We don't know where the initiative will take us next but the idea is to bring these facilities to children that need it."

The ambassador said that he would have loved to have had such facilities growing up. "We didn't have anything this nice - I used to play on the streets," he said.

Anna Araujo, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of East Los Angeles, praised the UAE and Man City for the donation.

"This is a field of dreams for these kids," she said. "At the end of it all what it really means is that somebody cares about them and that makes the difference for these kids.

"They come from very varied backgrounds - some of them have a support system but many don't. We welcome gratefully any chance to assist them by removing obstacles and giving them opportunities."

Ms Araujo said it was Man City and the Embassy who first initiated the project. "They found us," she said.

"Manchester City came to do exhibition games in Los Angeles this summer and they were looking for a youth group. The team came and they took all the kids to the beach and spent the whole afternoon together.

"At the end they promised that in October we would have a brand new field, and they kept their promise."

Ms Araujo added that she has been teaching her youngsters about the UAE and hopes the donation will forge strong links between LA and the UAE.

"It's been interesting because we've been throwing the name around a lot and the children have wanted to know more so have gone online to find out.

"One of the key components of what we are going to do is set up a 'web pal' programme so that with the webcams on the computers we are going to have them talk to the kids in Abu Dhabi, Manchester and Spanish Harlem and really start connecting them so they get a sense of the world."

newsdesk@thenational.ae