Dubai: As the secretary-general of the UAE National Olympic Committee (UAE NOC), Mohammad Al Kamali is in the enviable position of presiding over a historic occasion for the country, with its biggest-ever contingent going to the London Olympics.
This Friday, all 26 members of the team will march behind the country’s national flag at the opening ceremony in full view of billions watching worldwide on television.
But, rather than rest on his laurels, Al Kamali is eyeing an even bigger piece of the sporting pie in the future.
Here he shares his ideas on where he would like UAE sport to be in four years when the country’s athletes travel to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.
It’s a great time for UAE sport with nearly all athletes qualifying for the Olympics on merit. How does that feel?
To start with, this is a reflection of how our Rulers and the Government are supporting us in our quest for sporting excellence.
For the first time ever, we have athletes who have qualified on merit for the Games: two in track and field; three shooters; one weightlifter; one judoka and one swimmer, who has been given the wild-card invitation.
And then we have our football team, which earned a qualifying spot after that fantastic win over Uzbekistan. This is indeed one of the greatest sporting moments in our history.
How much effort was put into UAE’s bid to reach the London Games?
Way back in 2009, we laid down a strategic goal whereby we aimed to have at least ten athletes earning direct qualification to London. Besides the football team of 18 players, we have seven athletes who are competing without a wild card or invitation. For us, this translates into achieving 75 per cent of the goal we set for ourselves.
What are our medal chances in London?
Our best chance is in shooting. Shaikh Saeed [Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum] is the most experienced among the three shooters and he has been doing well in the skeet. We hope this good form can be translated into a second medal at an Olympics. [Shaikh Ahmad Hasher Al Maktoum won the double-trap gold at the 2004 Games in Athens].
What about the other athletes?
Most of them have worked hard and qualified in their events. I am sure they will work even harder to participate in a manner that is befitting of the UAE name and prove what they are capable of on the international stage.
It’s a historic moment for the sole UAE female, Khadija Mohammad, participating in weightlifting.
It is indeed history for the UAE Weightlifting Association and for sport in the UAE. We feel so proud to belong to this part of history.
Much is expected from the football team as well, don’t you agree?
Yes, and rightly so. The team has always been striving for results, and we believe the team has the capability to perform at this level.
Coach Mahdi Ali has done a fantastic job of keeping a great bunch of players together. I am of the belief that the team can do more than what they have achieved so far, and I am sure they will come up with good results in London that will spread a lot of joy among the UAE people.
A big impediment for the athletes could be the fasting during Ramadan. How will you overcome this potential hurdle?
Yes, the fasting during Ramadan is bound to affect our athletes, but that should not be a hindrance or an excuse for us.
Our athletes are professional enough to understand that they are professionals in every sense of the word and they perfectly understand the laws laid down by our Islamic way of life. We will leave it up to each individual athlete and his support staff as to how they prepare and cope. We are here to back them.
What does the future hold for sport in the UAE?
From now on it is matter of consolidation and building towards the future. We have not even started the London Games, but we are already thinking about having at least 15 athletes earning qualification for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016.