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A Culture of Sports and Mindset Change Needed to Encourage Sports in UAE, Say Sports Figures at Sharjah Ramadan Majlis"

The UAE needs a culture of sports and a change of mindset, including by the media, to promote individual sports and give all sports and sportspersons their due, argued the UAE’s top sports figures and heads of sports bodies at the second session of the Sharjah Ramadan Majlis held at Al Majaz Amphitheatre in Sharjah last night (Monday).  Hosted by Sharjah Media Centre (SMC), the second session of the popular Ramadan Majlis was dedicated to discussing the phenomenon of neglected and less popular sports under the title ‘Minority Sports Champions Dialogue’ and attracted huge response from sports lovers, the movers and shakers of sports bodies in the UAE and the media.    


Opening the discussion, Sheikh Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, President of Emirates Tennis Association, observed that one of the reasons for the lack of popularity for sports like tennis in the country is the lukewarm response of the media, which is too focused on football to pay adequate attention to other sports.  He lamented the fact that while tennis is wildly popular and tennis players are major sporting icons in Europe and elsewhere, in the UAE the game does not have many takers.  He said the media is largely to blame for this state of affairs as it has created this public perception that only football and football players matter and this is happening at the expense of other sports. 


Urging the media and public to patronise and support neglected sports like tennis, the President of Emirates Tennis Association said that although UAE tennis players had won several medals, including gold, silver and bronze, in various regional and international tournaments, they have not been adequately recognised by the media and public. 


He regretted the popular perception about tennis being an elitist sport saying it badly needs dedicated and professional players. He said many promising players drop out at an early stage after being forced by their parents to focus on their studies and called for totally dedicated players who could focus on their training and giving their best, rather than on anything else. “Our players are mostly amateurs. We want professionals in tennis and other sports,” he emphasised. He also complained of many sports clubs in the UAE not allowing tennis players to play on their grounds, perhaps fearing threat to football. 


However, he said, the government is doing everything to support tennis in the UAE and has even granted land to build a tennis academy and tennis court in Dubai.  He called for regular meetings between various sports councils, federations and clubs to identify the issues and challenges facing sports in the country.    


Joining the discussion, HE Saeed Hareb, Secretary General of Dubai Sports Council, agreed that support from the media and public is crucial to all sports, saying it is the media that makes champions and plays a key role in making a particular sport popular.  He regretted the fact that the media overlooks local champions while following international stars.  Clubs also play a major role in encouraging and sidelining individual sports, he added, saying while the government support for sports is strong in the UAE, clubs do play an important role in supporting them.


While acknowledging that football enjoys wide popularity in the UAE and around the world and it is not possible to take away its eminence, he called for giving every individual sport its due.   


HE Saeed Hareb said the UAE has everything in world-class sports infrastructure and necessary government support.  “We only need the support of parents to create good players.  We encourage clubs but we do not want our children to join them. We need a culture of sports in the UAE and we need to inculcate in our children the importance of sports,” he added.


HE Qais Abdulla Al Dhalai, Secretary General of the UAE Rugby Federation, offered a rosier picture saying although the UAE Rugby Federation came into being only in 2009, the sport has been enjoying growing popularity in the country. He said that 99% of students in Dubai and Al Ain play Rugby.  The Federation has been visiting schools and colleges across the country to scout talent. As a result, today there are hundreds of Rugby players in the UAE. However, he also complained of the lack of adequate media coverage and support for the sport. He blamed the lack of coordination between various clubs and the media for failure to recognise local Rugby players although the UAE Rugby Federation has contracts with several TV channels and offers social media support for the game. 


Mohammed Al Qaid, the Olympian wheelchair sprinter, said that he does not want to talk about the indifference of the media.  However, he feels let down that even after winning 4 medals in the World Championship in Doha, there has been little coverage and recognition for him in the local media.  “Even when I got qualified for the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio, it was treated as if I had taken part in a regional tournament,” he said.  


Complaining of the public and media apathy, he said: “If you want me to win and bring medals, you need to recognise me and my efforts. Players have to be supported physically, mentally and psychologically.  You need to support me if you want me to win medals for the country,” he said. However, he vowed to prepare for the Rio Olympics and put in his best to win, just like he did in the London Olympics.    


In his opening remarks, Khalid Al Hammadi, producer and presenter of Sharjah Media Corporation, who moderated the debate, underlined the importance of sports citing the example of Usain Bolt of Jamaica, who is widely popular and known around the world while few know who Patrick Allen, the president of his country, is.  


The Ramadan Majlis is one of the most innovative initiatives by Sharjah Media Centre to raise and discuss a wide spectrum of issues before the community, with the help of distinguished experts, innovators, intellectuals, writers and artists from across the Arab world.  

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