Aref Al Awani Q&A: Asian Cup in UAE a chance to bring people together through football

General secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council and director of Local Organising Committee for Asian Cup talks through lessons learnt from Australia

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The 2019 Asian Cup begins on Saturday as the UAE get set to host the tournament for the second time.

Aref Al Awani, the general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council and director of the Local Organising Committee, explains why the event matters, how being a volunteer in 1996 was so important to him, and his overall expectations.

On getting advice from Australia's hosting of 2015 tournament

"We got a lot of good ideas and have developed their ideas so that they are tailor-made to the UAE, which was important to do to get their experiences. It is easy here because of our infrastructure such as the hotels and the people living in the UAE or for visitors. We have developed a lot of things here, too, such as the city fan zones."


More on Asian Cup:

In pictures: A look back on the last time the Emirates played host in 1996

Son Heung-min can ignite South Korea: Five men to watch in tournament

Lowdown: Groups, teams, tickets and all you need to know about event

Bernd Stange counting on Syria fans to carry team through group phase


On the importance of the Asian Cup

"I’m telling people that this a time for celebration for everybody. We have half of Asia here so it’s a time to bring people together through football. We have 11 Arabic teams from the 24 nations, new teams like the Philippines and Yemen who will have a lot of support, especially from people who live here in the UAE. Having a rotation of the teams playing in different cities is one thing which we think will drive attendances and let people see more games."

Reflecting on the 1996 tournament

"I used to be a volunteer in 1996 in PR at the stadiums and hotels. I learnt a lot form this. I learnt to serve my country and be part of an event that everybody was proud of and everybody talks about.

"Even though I was a volunteer, I gained so much experience that I transferred to others and other aspects of life. You take great pride in helping your country to host events. It is always going to be something that you can take great satisfaction from. There are challenges but it is a great thing to learn."

UAE's Munther Abdulla (C) dribbles past Iraqi defenders Hayder Majeed (L) and Esam Salem 15 December during their Asian Cup quarterfinal match in Abu Dhabi. (Photo by JORGE FERRARI / AFP)
UAE's Munther Abdulla, centre, dribbles past Iraqi defenders Hayder Majeed, left, and Esam Salem during their Asian Cup quarter-final in Abu Dhabi. Jorge Ferrari / AFP

Crowd expectations

"We hope so and we are aiming for good attendances although we know some games will be difficult, but we are ready. We want full houses for the UAE national team, and other games like Saudi Arabia have huge support."

On the tournament legacy

"It’s a time to develop our quality at international level. We have had this for a long time. We are looking forward. I think it’s the time for sport in the UAE to have champions in all sports - teams or individuals.

"Now it’s the time to develop the talents of young people and create programmes to help them achieve their goals. Asian Cup can provide a platform of sporting awareness to encourage people to take up sport and achieve new things. We are focused on this."