Abu Dhabi: The second season of the Abu Dhabi Football League (ADFL) is likely to see the Amateur Women League, a competition which comprised of mainly Emirati women in its inaugural season, take place in an outdoor environment.
With the UAE FA backed competition, recognised as the official amateur league for Abu Dhabi, proving to be largely successful in its debut season which ended this week at The Dome, organisers are eager to build on the momentum and grow the league further. While plans include establishing similar leagues in other emirates, including Dubai, the biggest move could see the Amateur Women League which had every match played behind closed doors in the inaugural season, take place in full public view from season two.
"The idea was to have a grassroots football league where expatriates and locals can participate together, because after the UFL, you have the first and second division and nothing else after that," Eric Gottschalk, CEO of Mediapro Middle East - the ADFL's joint-organisers with Reem Investments - told XPRESS.
"In regards to the women's league, we talked to the [Abu Dhabi] Sports Council, to the Women's [Football] Committee here in Abu Dhabi and with Reem and Mediapro together, and then decided to host the Abu Dhabi Football League and add a women's competition because we were able to have the women play indoors.
"So we expected a lot of local women to participate and in order to get used to playing football, they requested that it would be better for them for the first season to be playing indoors. But if you look at the way football is played and the way the Sports Council is promoting women's football, the game has to be brought outside, just like it is played in the rest of the world, and also because we are trying to attract all participants in the UAE. We want to open it up, as it's a league for the UAE, not a league [only] for Abu Dhabi local women," Gottschalk added.
The move already appears to be generating disapproval among the Emirati women. Shaikha Al Kaabi, skipper of Team Abu Dhabi which won the inaugural event, said: "I don't believe it will be as much of a success as it has been this year. I'm expecting most of the participants will be expats, not UAE nationals.
"We can't play in front of men, so it helped playing in a closed area and also encouraged the girls to come and participate as well."
Asked if her team would return to defend their title in such a scenario, she said: "I don't think so. It will not be encouraging for us or for other [Emirati] teams."
Gottschalk admitted the decision could lead to a reduction of Emirati players but did offer hope of a compromise. "This is a competitive league. We are putting Dh50,000 of prize money in and we want to have competitive players participating regardless if they're male or female," he said. "If we play indoors, we will not be giving competitive players the chance to play because competitive players want to be outside.
"But if the local players are against playing outdoors, perhaps we could have a compromise where we have the competitive league being played outdoors and a league just for the local women being played indoors."
Gottschalk also revealed other plans for the event which will come into force from the start of the second season in October. "We have talked to the UAE FA. We have the mandate now to roll out an amateur football league throughout the UAE. So the next step would be to have a league in Fujairah and a league in Dubai. And this will hopefully have men and women. I don't think that we will have a women's league in Fujariah in the first season but we will offer it and then see what the feedback is," he said.