DUBAI // Young footballers are getting out of the heat this summer at the country's first year-round facility with artificial turf, Ahdaaf Sports Club.
Each week, about 30 youngsters, all under 15, are coached by former professionals, which the club's founders say is laying the foundations for an established youth football team in the UAE, as well as raising fitness and health levels of the children. Anas Bukhash, 28, one of three men behind the venture, said it was imperative to get children off video games and on their feet. "It really bothers me that the new generation are so lazy," he said. "Everyone blames the weather and it does cause challenges, but that doesn't mean it is impossible to be active.
"All our children do these days is come home from school, spend six hours on in front of the TV or computer, and then go to the mall. It's so unhealthy." The most recent information, produced in 2008 by the department of nutrition and health at UAE University in Al Ain, reported that 50 per cent of married Emiratis - men and women - were obese, and an average of 24 per cent of children aged between eight and 12 were overweight. Similarly, a report by the World Health Organisation in 2005 said that 25 per cent of the Emirati population were diabetic and a quarter suffered from hypertension.
Yousuf al Hashimi, 24, a co-founder of Ahdaaf, said a healthy lifestyle was one way to tackle the statistics. He was passionate about making this change, he said. "It's not just a passing phase. We want to create a long-term impact and establish a well-rooted amateur football scene here. "We are dedicated to the sport and the youth of our country." The pair, with two other business partners - Mustafa al Hashimi, 29, and Fahad Kazim, 28 - opened Ahdaaf in January 2009.
It was and still is the country's only facility with AstroTurf or artificial grass, allowing players to wear football boots as if they were playing on real turf. Mr Bukhash said he came up with the idea when he was studying at Northeastern University in Boston, in the United States, and played football on AstroTurf in air-conditioned facilities. "I knew something like that would be really popular in Dubai, where it's too hot most of the year to play outside," he said. "So I came back and pitched the idea to Sheikh Mohammed's small business fund."
The Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development agreed to back Mr Bukhash's project, and he joined forces with the others to open the business. "It was not easy," said Mr Bukhash, whose day job is as a programme manager for Dubai Cares, which tries to provide education for children in developing countries. "It took a long time to find a location and obtain an LLC trading licence, and then we had to turn the warehouse into a sports club."
Mr al Hashimi said what sets Ahdaaf, which means "goals", apart from other clubs were the facilities. "We have fully fitted changing rooms and showers as well as a sports shop and a cafe. We also run tournaments, corporate events and we have open play memberships where people who don't have a team of friends already can sign up and we will bring them together in teams." But the main thrust of its focus was on children, he said.
"Our long-term aim is to develop an amateur football scene in the UAE and eventually an official youth team," said Mr al Hashimi. "We want communities like Jumeirah, Al Barsha and Umm Suqeim to have their own teams and play against each other. "Then we have ties with international youth teams who we want to bring here and help our kids, not only to get fitter and healthier but also to improve their sport."
There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the children improve, said Mr Bukhash. "They come here every week and, even if they are not very good, it is great to see them learn. The best thing about it is knowing we are making a long-term difference to these kids' lives." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Follow this and our other hot-weather series of stories at www.thenational.ae/summer And on our online forum at www.thenational.ae, let us know your ideas for summer activities