UAE ready for women's football

The country could have a women's football team in the near future if the plans of the UAE Women's Football Committee come to fruition.

The UAE women's seven-a-side football team celebrate after winning the Armed Forces Officers Club 13th Open Sports Festival tournament.
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The UAE could have an official national women's football team in the near future if the plans of the UAE Women's Football Committee come to fruition. The committee, formed in June, also want to launch a national women's football league by 2012 and host international tournaments. First, though, they are starting with the basics: encouraging Emirati girls to pull on a pair of football boots. Backed by the UAE Football Association (FA) and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the committee was formed as part of a UAE FA initiative to increase the presence of women's football in the country.

"The immediate task is to build the awareness of the women's committee and find out how many of our children are playing football," said committee chairman Hafsa al Ulama. "We know there are a lot of them, but we don't know where or when they play or if they know there is any body representing them." "This is a sport everybody likes. We know girls like to play it. We know they are playing it in schools."

Abu Dhabi Women's Football Club was formed five years ago by a group of friends with a love of the sport. Now, the team has grown and they have their own facilities at Abu Dhabi Country Club. Al Ulama hopes the eight Emiratis playing in the side can form the basis of the country's first national team. If they can find more Emiratis. "Looking at the population this is always a problem, it is a small place with a small population that you are talking about," she said.

"This will always be a problem. It will be a challenge to find enough people. We need to have 25-30 good players for a national team, so we can have 11 good players who can play." She may have luck finding players in Dubai. A group of Emiratis have been using facilities at Dubai Ladies Club (DLC). Formed in 2004, the team now has 18 players, 14 of whom are Emirati. "The enthusiasm is definitely there. They could hold their own in a league," said DLC wellness manager Maddie Stocks.

One of the first goals of the national women's committee is to develop a grassroots programme, working in partnership with schools and sports clubs. "We have already started a programme for kids in Abu Dhabi, during term time we have about 30 girls from local schools and the girls from the Abu Dhabi women's team teach them how to play," said al Ulama. "They are aged between nine and 11 and come once or twice a week.

"It is very popular in the schools. A small festival of football took place in Abu Dhabi about a year ago and around 400 girls took part. Girls aged from eight to 11 were playing football and were so excited about it." Al Ulama's vision is simple: she wants women to have the same opportunities to play football as men. Having supported the Abu Dhabi Women's Football Club, which includes eight Emiratis, she is confident there is a pool of talent in the country.

"The launch of the committee is the first step in the right direction, the next step is to reach out to different clubs and communities throughout the Emirates," she said. The committee have been doing their homework, taking notes from existing women's football programmes in other Asian countries and working closely with the FA to ensure they develop women's football in a sustainable way. "About four months ago, we had a meeting in Jordan organised by Fifa, where we heard about the experiences of countries across Asia," Al Ulama said.

"It was interesting to find out what countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Bangladesh have done for women's football and exchange notes. "We are starting now so we have done the initial stages in Abu Dhabi. We never had the recognition before, but now that we are under the umbrella of the FA and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council to develop women's football we have the legitimacy. "The FA have been very helpful. We will have new offices at their headquarters in Abu Dhabi. We will have ongoing meetings with them to see how they can help us promote this sport across the UAE."

In addition to continuing and growing the after-schools programme in Abu Dhabi, the committee will be running a four-day Fifa-certified coaching course in October, aiming to train a new generation of female coaches, assistants and referees.