Having come a long way as the technical arm of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF), Palms Sports is now aspiring to be a leader in sports management and training in the country.
Founded in 2010, Palms Sports employs 752 jiu-jitsu coaches who oversee the training of more than 140,000 Emirati practitioners of the martial art.
They have conducted more than 10,000 jiu-jitsu classes every week across the country in public schools, National Services, Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Police and at the Zayed Higher Organisation for people of determination.
In addition, they conducted 350 competitions last year, having started with 40 in 2015. They had plans to stage 400 this year but that number will drop considerably because of the coronavirus pandemic.
They set a new benchmark by staging the Mohamed bin Zayed Jiu-Jitsu Training Programme for the first time in a refugee camp in Jordan in July/August last year.
That's not it. They have added other combat sports to their portfolio – Mixed Martial Arts (UAE Warriors) and Muay Thai – and plans are already underway to start swimming and traditional rowing classes in public schools.
"Our aspiration is to become a one-stop-shop for sports management and training in the country," Fouad Darwish, who is completing five years as general manager of Palms Sports, told The National.
“We signed an agreement last November with the Ministry of Education to start swimming in more than 50 public schools. We have an ongoing agreement with several public schools for Muay Thai training.
“We inaugurated the first of its kind traditional rowing training programme across the UAE.
“Five years ago, Palms Sports' parameters were limited to jiu-jitsu but that has changed. We believe today’s youth are the future of tomorrow.”
Jiu-jitsu is in the curriculum of 153 public schools in the country and this number was to increase to 360 with the approval of the Ministry of Education to new schools from March.
“We had to push back this project until after coronavirus is eradicated and school activities resume,” Darwish said.
“We scanned around the country and found around 580 public schools under the ministry of education but not all of them can have jiu-jitsu in their curriculums, though.
“However, this (360) is more than 85 per cent of the public schools in the country and that’s a huge achievement. Our objective is to have jiu-jitsu at every school.
“Some of the schools just didn't have the space to build the facilities.”
Darwish is proud of the fact that Palms Sports has become a leading player in the jiu-jitsu eco system in the country.
“We are the technical arm of the UAEJJF, a strategic partner of the Ministry of Education, the Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Police and several clubs,” he said.
“We are also a strategic partner with the Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination.
“We do special classes for people with autism. We want to be a reliable social and community participant. We want to be a bridge between the public and private sector. Now we are at a point where we want to expand our spectrum of services beyond jiu-jitsu.”
Darwish said the Mohamed bin Zayed Jiu-Jitsu Training programme for Syrian refugees at the Mrajeeb Al Fhood camp in Jordan, which is home to more than 6,000, was a benchmark in any sports.
“This is the most fulfilling project that I have ever participated,” Darwish said. “There is nothing more humanitarian. The camp had more than 2,300 participants and we had two teams of coaches and 30 Emirati kids.
“They had training sessions six days a week. Initially we looked for around 200-300 kids but the training was beneficial and drew more than 1,800.
“It was also educational for those Emirati kids to know how lucky they are because people are suffering in other parts of the world.”
This summer, the Mohamed bin Zayed Jiu-Jitsu Training Programme was to be held in Erbil, Iraq, but was cancelled.
Darwish was the senior vice president of Global Investment House in Kuwait when he was offered the position at Palms Sports in March 2015.
“I was in the investment banking field since 1996,” he reminisced.
“When I was offered this position I thought to myself ‘I’m a banker and what am I going to do at Palms Sports’ at that time.
“But today, if you ask me this is by far the best job I've ever had. I can't find a more fulfilling job in my life.”
Darwish brought in corporate governance to Palms Sports to achieve the ISO certification in 2015 and won the 2020 Gess Education Award from more than 100 nominees from 50 countries.