Having already overseen the most successful year in Emirati athletics history, Ahmed al Kamali, the president of the country's athletics federation, said yesterday that the next 12 months will be a "year of results". Now in the third year of his presidency, the former long-distance runner, who received an award on behalf of the UAE Athletics Federation (UAEAF) for the country's Best Sports Federation of 2009 at the Dubai International Sports Conference yesterday, has completely overhauled the structure of domestic athletics.
First off, he worked tirelessly for the Emirates to be removed from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) blacklist for only competing in a handful of meetings. The campaigning worked and UAE athletes can compete around the world once again. The result: two Emiratis qualified for last summer's World Championships in Berlin. Omar Juma al Salfa made it through to the second round in the 200 metres, while Ali Obaid Shirook pulled up in his heat of the men's 400m hurdles.
Next, al Kamali reversed a long-standing domestic policy which did not allow non-nationals to compete in local meetings. The boost in performance standards was designed to enhance competition for Emirati participants. The result: the UAE's squad returned home from the Arab Athletics Championships in Syria with a record-breaking haul of four medals, including gold for al Salfa in the 200m. "2008 was the start; 2009 was not bad, but 2010 is the year of results," said al Kamali.
"I believe we are going to have the best year ever for UAE athletics. Everything is geared up for November's Asian Games in Guangzhou." In China, the UAE's 15-strong squad will tackle the best athletes in the continent. To help them prepare, al Kamali revealed he has secured Dh2.4million to fund a programme which will see his medal contenders tour South Africa, France, Belgium, Algeria, Kuwait, Iran, Malaysia and Vietnam.
In thanking Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed and Dubai's Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed for their contributions, al Kamali trumpeted the Supreme Council and National Olympic Committee for both fully-endorsing his globe-trotting training schedule. "We have reasons for them going to the various countries," said al Kamali. "They will have valuable altitude training in South Africa and Algeria to prepare for summer Grands Prix in Europe. Then, the Vietnam and Malaysia programmes will help them familiarise to the conditions they can expect in China.
"We are not straying from our main events and most of the boys are progressing well. It is all about peaking for Guangzhou, but a 300-day programme is not cheap. I thank everyone for allocating the money and now I think 2010 will be the team's year. The squad have been freed from their normal jobs and I have a feeling we will do better than ever before - Asian golds is what we want." Al Kamali also revealed that two up-and-coming youngsters are formally associated with the Olympic Solidarity movement, a talent identification scheme developed to assist national athletics bodies with harnessing potential.
"We are building things for the future by sending Saleh Mohammed and Jasim Ali on an Olympic Solidarity programme," he added. "It will help them prepare for August's Youth Olympics in Singapore." After years of neglect, the past few years have finally seen UAE athletics emerge from the dark ages. Indeed, under al Kamali's stewardship a bright new era awaits the country's track and field stars.Traditionally the UAE has relied on wild-cards to secure Olympic entries.
But with a plan to have "six-to-eight" Emirati athletes qualify for London 2012, and the next generation of contenders identified and under the microscope, al Kamali's vision should come into view over the next few months. Belatedly, perhaps, but the nation is beginning to expect. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org