The general secretary of the UAE Wrestling, Judo and Kickboxing Federation (UAEWJKF) has welcomed the General Sports Authority's announcement that expatriates born and living in the Emirates will be given the chance to represent their adopted homeland.
Following a decree from UAE President Sheikh Khalifa, as of September expatriates, including foreign men married to Emirati women, will be eligible to join local clubs and potentially represent the country in all sports in a decision hailed as "ground-breaking".
“This is one of the most important announcements in the history of UAE sports,” said Nasser Al Tamimi, general secretary of the UAEWJKF.
“For sure, not only in judo, but all sports in the country will benefit with the participation of expatriates and foreigners by taking the competition to a higher level and in a positive way."
The UAEWJKF were one of the first sports institutions to call up an athlete born outside the Emirates years before the Presidential decree.
Competing under the UAE flag, Moldovan-born Sergiu Toma won a bronze medal in judo at the 2016 Rio Olympics, only the country's second medal at a Summer Games after Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum's gold in the double trap shooting at the 2004 Games in Athens.
Al Tamimi said his federation already had several talented judoka expatriate children born in the UAE on their books as well as long-time residents who could benefit from the new decree.
“We have made the national championships open to all those residing in the country," he said. "They certainly will be encouraged, particularly, those long-time residents and those born in the UAE. They feel they belong here.”
As well as Toma, three other Moldovan-born judokas - Ivan Remarenco, Victor Scvortov and Mihail Machetan - represent the UAE on the world circuit.
“We can now think of expanding this squad,” Al Tamimi said. “We haven’t had an issue in obtaining them the UAE passport and we can think of scouting for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”
All UAE sports federations including football, basketball, volleyball and rugby clubs will begin implementing the Cabinet-approved regulations in September and local clubs can start the registration process.
The decision is set to change the landscape for many sports in the country, although some entities are still coming to terms with how best to implement the new rules.
The player pool of the Emirates Hockey League (EHL), the governing body for ice hockey, for example, consists mainly of expatriate and semi-professional players, but those players have been ineligible to represent the country because they do not have a UAE passport.
“We are studying the new regulations and it will take some time for us to arrive with a formula,” said Juma Al Dhaheri, captain of the UAE national team and general secretary of the UAE Ice Sports Federation.
“We are working closely with the IIHF and obviously seek assistance from them how a pathway can be created. My understanding is that you need the country’s passport, as we have tried it with the players born to Emirati mothers before.
The EHL structure is formulated on the recommendations of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to develop and raise the level of the sport in the country. Al Dhaheri says being able to tap into a wider pool talent of young players would only benefit the game here.
“However, this is a good move to improve the quality of the team. Like all other sports, we too have young players with good skills but ineligible to play for the country,” he said.