UAE and Manchester City donate football pitches to underprivileged US schools

Work has begun on a foobtall pitch donated by the UAE and Manchester City Football Club to a public primary school in a low-income area of Washington DC.

The UAE Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, shakes Washington DC mayor Vincent Gray's hand at the ground-breaking ceremony for the football pitch at Marie Reed Elementary school. Evelyn Hockstein / The National
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WASHINGTON, DC // Work has begun on a football pitch donated by the UAE and Manchester City Football Club to a public primary school in a low-income US neighbourhood.

The all-weather AstroTurf pitch will replace a rundown sports field at the Marie Reed Elementary school in the Adams Morgan neighbourhood.

It is due to be completed in autumn, after which Manchester City will provide coaching to local children as part of its community programme.

"This is transformative because this isn't just the school's field, this is the community's field," said Eugene Pinkard, the school principal.

"There are at least half a dozen schools that use this field for after-school soccer programmes. We use it for community events as well as PE classes … it's going to uplift a lot of people."

The UAE and Man City, which is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, have donated similar fields in inner-city areas of Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York as part of the country's charitable efforts in the US.

"I can't imagine a better place for this new field, right here in the heart of Washington," said Yousef Al Otaiba, ambassador to the US, at the ground-breaking.

After football drills for Marie Reed students in blue Man City shirts, a section of AstroTurf was unveiled by Mr Al Otaiba on Tuesday.

He was joined at the event by Vincent Gray, mayor of Washington, Michael Corbin, US ambassador to the UAE, and the UK Embassy deputy head of mission.

Man City's "City Soccer in the Community" programme is to promote itself in the US while helping neighbourhoods in need.

"America is a great, up-and-coming soccer market but first we want to give back," Gary Hopkins, the head of City's international development team in the US, told the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper last year after another pitch was donated.

Marie Reed is in a part of Washington that has been gentrified in recent years, but also has large African-American and immigrant communities that depend on public schools, which are facing increasing budget pressures.

Washington city government has plans to close one in six public schools because of fund shortfalls.

Jamie Britton, 27, whose son attends kindergarten at Marie Reed, said she and other parents and teachers had written to city officials for money and solicited private donations to update the school's infrastructure.

Ms Britton said that until now they had not received substantial help.

"I grew up around the corner and the field has been this bad since I was in school here," she said, pointing to the lumpy dirt pitch and the nearby wooden amphitheatre-style seats, splintering and overgrown with grass.

Ms Britton said she and other parents had not heard of the UAE until they learnt it was helping to renovate the field. They were surprised.

"Why this school? Why this community?"

The donated pitches are a small part of a UAE aid programme in the US aimed at aiding the poor and helping to increase public knowledge of the UAE.

Assisting those less fortunate is an integral part of Emirati culture, Mr Al Otaiba has said.

The UAE has become one of the world's largest donors of foreign aid in relation to its gross national product, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and a sizeable amount is used on projects in the US.

Health care and children's projects have been the largest recipients, including the US$1.1 billion (Dh4.04bn) Sheikh Zayed Cardiovascular and Critical Care Tower at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

The UAE Embassy donated $5 million to rebuild the paediatric wing of a hospital in Missouri, that was damaged by a tornado in 2011.

In 2009 Abu Dhabi donated $150m to the Institute for Paediatric Surgical Innovation at Children's National Medical Centre in Washington.

"It shows America and the world who we really are," Mr Al Otaiba told the Washington Diplomat paper.