Dubai: As Director of Marketing and Communications, Rashid Al Awadhi has the responsibility of developing relationships with partners of the Dubai Sports Council (DSC) and also providing the best form of marketing and public relations for its strategic plans. He is also there to assist in the DSC’s drive in getting the community to participate in sports and sporting activities so that it becomes a lifestyle here. He also sees the need for the emirate to compete with sporting cities across the world so that Dubai residents are given get the necessary access to events while endorsing its position as the sporting capital of the world. It was with this objective that the Samsung Beach Soccer Intercontinental Cup was shifted from The Walk JBR to the more accessible Dubai Festival City (DFC). He tells Gulf News about this unique journey.
GULF NEWS: What is the whole idea of organising this tournament at a location like Dubai Festival City?
RASHID AL AWADHI: Beach soccer is a rising sport around the world and we want to own this sport here in Dubai. If we look at the 1980s and 1990s most of our top footballers emerged through the ranks as beach soccer players. Now, in the name of development a lot of these neighbourhood football fields have been lost and this is one of the main reasons why we felt the need to get back to the roots by stressing on a sport like beach soccer. This is like a renaissance or going back to the roots if you may term it. This tournament will be the biggest exposure for beach soccer here.
Q. With such ambitions, it sure looks like the sport is headed in the right direction.
A. Oh yes, there are many, many more beach soccer activities lined up by us. We will have the UAE Clubs Cup, UAE Corporate Cup, the UAE Beach Soccer League, the Super Cup and President’s Cup. And for this to happen in one location, the objective ultimately would be to have a long-term venue. Besides the beach soccer we will also have a full calendar that would include beach rugby and even beach tennis. We feel great about the location and the Al Futtaim Group has been so supportive all along. They have gone out of their way to make things easy for us. So what we end up with is a fantastic infrastructure and a venue that can combine shopping with sport. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have a day out for the entire family. There are discussions going on with the authorities to retain the field at least for the next few months to start with while we continue looking at a more permanent solution.
Q. What would be the pros of having a permanent venue at the DFC?
A. One of the reasons why we feel comfortable about the location is that it is made to handle a full flow of traffic. One of the issues we have had is parking and providing free transport to spectators. With over 3,000 car park spots and the fantastic accessibility of the venue, we could not have asked for a better choice. We want to make it very easy for people to come and watch.
Q. How do you think this tournament that brings the best teams from the continents in one place, benefits sport here in the UAE?
A. Any athlete wants to compete at the best level. We have an agreement with Fifa to have this tournament for the next five years (till 2017). So this is a fantastic opportunity for our national team to continue developing and evolving and at the same time helping the younger generation to make a conscious decision to enter directly into beach soccer and then look at a career in football. It’s a different approach altogether, but I feel we need to have the youngsters start with beach soccer rather than the other way around. We look forward to the day when that happens.
Q. How ready are you for this tournament?
A. The construction of the stadium commenced some ten days ago and at the moment we are way ahead of schedule. We will have the stadium ready in time to have an exhibition match for the UAE national team against Russia on October 26. The initial thinking was to have the exhibition match at Al Mamzar Beach, but we changed this to the actual venue so that we can test the stadium. The teams will start arriving on October 28.
Q. What about other aspects such as tickets, etc?
A. Entry for the public is absolutely free of cost. We have envisioned this duration as a day out for the entire family. There is seating space for 2,500 spectators along with a special built-up area for the VIPs.
Q. What will be the highlight of the tournament this year?
A. The highlight is eight great teams playing each other with each team with its own fan base and I am convinced the coverage will be great. Dubai will be in the limelight once again and we will be providing a platform for the players to play at the biggest stage. Everyone wants to be on that platform. And definitely, the ultimate highlight would be the UAE winning the Cup.
Q. What can we expect from the UAE team this time?
A. We played a couple of great friendly matches against Azerbaijan last week. Our hope is to come out with the title and that will be a great end to the Cup at a new venue. Such a thing will drive the support for the team from UAE fans. We expect entertaining games and I hope a lot of the public come and support the UAE team. There are other great teams and we want the stadium to be packed, but the crowd should be screaming their lungs out for the home side.