Online sports forum booms as fans add social side to keeping fit, which helps people organise recreational sports leagues, has grown to 10,000 members in two years

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ABU DHABI // When it comes to making new friends, more people are choosing football or basketball over smoky bars - thanks to an online forum that is surging in popularity., which helps people organise recreational sports leagues, has expanded from 10 members at its launch in Dubai in 2007 to about 10,000, said Davinder Rao, its co-founder. It is now preparing to expand to meet surging demand, especially in the capital.

"I think the most important thing about Abu Dhabi is that there is more of an Arab population," Mr Rao said. "They don't go to bars to meet new people and make friends, and so sport can become more of a social thing." In fact, the site has proved so popular among the capital's Arab population that women-only leagues are now being set up. There are also late game starts in Abu Dhabi and early kick-offs in Dubai to serve the growing number of people who commute. already arranges competitions in various sports and allows potential players to contact each other. It now plans to introduce three mixed sports, touch rugby, volleyball and ultimate frisbee, for those who want to add a social aspect to their fitness regimes. "Sport is a great avenue for mixing with different cultures, classes," Mr Rao said. "One of the things we want to get across is that you don't have to play sports at a high level in order to be able to participate."

Event schedules will be made more flexible for those making the daily trip between the capital and Dubai, a group that has tripled in size in the past few years. That should help increase the number of players and generate more socialising, Mr Rao said. "In terms of people working in Abu Dhabi and living in Dubai, they want to play earlier in Abu Dhabi because they finish work at six o'clock," he said. "I had one client who said he was scared to try and drive back to make a game in Dubai. He would rather stay, play and then travel home.

"We have also had members requesting later start times in Dubai to allow people to get home safely. It just makes that experience in Abu Dhabi more friendly because there are a lot of people commuting now." In a further expansion move, corporate leagues will be launched in Abu Dhabi in March. They will be subdivided into different industry sectors, such as media and finance, to cope with the large number of companies that have signed up to promote teamwork and boost their networking potential, Mr Rao said. Among new sports to be added to both emirates will be street hockey, which is similar to ice hockey except on hard flooring, and cricket.