Aref Al Awani: 'Legacy' for UAE football will come from Asian Cup

The general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council and director of the Local Organising Committee proud of financial investment to develop stadiums

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., November 26, 2018.  
Interview with Aref Al Awani, secretary general of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, and head of Local Organising Committee of both Fifa Club World and Asian Cup.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  SP
Reporter: Amith Passela
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Aref Al Awani has said he is proud of the UAE’s ­commitment to making the 2019 Asian Cup a success after revealing the investment that has been made into improving and developing facilities ahead of the start of the tournament.

The general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council and director of the Local Organising Committee revealed on Monday that Dh1 billion had been spent ahead of the competition that will see 24 teams from across the region play in 51 matches, with the final on February 1.

Al Awani said the ­majority of the funds were spent on upgrading eight stadiums that will host the matches, in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah.

The 45,000-seat Zayed Sports City stadium that will stage the opening match between the UAE and Bahrain, after a 15-minute gala opening ceremony on Saturday, had to undergo major changes that included a new turf pitch and lighting, besides the all-round refurbishment of the facilities.

Al Wahda’s Al Nahyan ­Stadium in Abu Dhabi and Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai were the two other ­stadiums that had to undergo major upgrades.


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It also included 25 new ­training pitches being built, shared among the four cities hosting matches.

“The upgrading was needed for almost all the stadiums and most of that was related to the operations,” Al Awani said from ADSC headquarters.

“The media seating had to be upgraded to around 500 plus to accommodate more than 2,000 accredited journalists from 63 countries.

“In some of the stadiums, we have increased the seating capacity by around 400.

“All eight stadiums had their own challenges and to carry it out was a massive task. They were long processes as the requirements were different from one stadium to another.

“However, now we can proudly look back and say that we have achieved it and look forward to the tournament becoming a smash hit. And what we have invested will remain as the legacy for UAE football.

“Upgrading the stadiums will certainly benefit UAE football. The scale at which the work has been done and the work that goes behind the scenes until the completion of the championship is incredible.”

Ticket allocations for UAE, Saudi Arabia and Syria supporters for their team's group matches have sold out, with demand for the games played by Iran, India and the Philippines also in high demand.

Al Awani said he expects  the opening match between UAE and Bahrain to be a full house by the time the action begins at 8pm on Saturday.

“The trend we are seeing on the sale of tickets is a very a good sign,” he added.

“We are aiming to have a full house for most of the matches but, as of now, some of the high-profile match tickets have already been sold out.”