Dubai: Several years back I was fortunate enough to be closely involved in covering the youth sailing programme and several junior sailing regattas organised by the untiring Sid Bensaleh under the auspices of the Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC).
As time passed and the programme paid dividends, we got to see some talent coming through.
Most notably, there was Yousuf Bin Lahej, who went on to become among the first UAE sailor at an Olympic Games when he travelled to Athens in 2004.
Four years later, another gutsy lad, Adil Khalid, did the UAE proud by flying the nation’s flag at the 2008 Beijing Games and subsequently at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China.
Since then, stricken by injuries, Bin Lahej has settled in at a steady job at the Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC), while Adil Khalid pursued his dream further and went on to be one of two Emirati sailors participating with Team Abu Dhabi in the Volvo Asian Sailing Race earlier this year.
Over the past few years, Dubai has undergone several changes, especially along its coastline. The more prominent alterations have come with the construction of the Palm Jumeirah and the World, among other islands.
And, with all the construction activity along the coast, one of the casualties, if you may call it that, has been sailing. Focus gradually shifted to the capital as the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club (ADIMSC) tried to regroup the sailors and continue the sailing success story.
Among those involved in the junior sailing programme was another lad, Adil Khalid’s younger brother, Yousuf, who has now taken up a full-time role at the DIMC.
Now an accredited trainer under the auspices of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), and with backing from the DIMC, Yousuf has obtained a coaching certification so that he can start the sailing programme afresh.
“I am confident [about the future],” Yousuf told me.
“We have the talent to get some good, talented sailors from the local population and, within a period of time, I am confident we can have top-quality sailors representing the UAE at various international events, including the Olympic Games,” he added.
Turning down an offer to become general manager of a prominent UAE Bank, Yousuf has accepted the challenge of finding the next generation of sailors for the UAE. He has a very scientific way of going about his task.
Since the start of the season, he has been personally visiting schools and clubs in the area and scouting for young sailors who “will love the sport for the thrill it gives”.
“I have walked this way before and I know what it takes to be a sailor. I want to inspire this generation to take up this sport and you can be certain that we can even start winning medals in the not so distant future,” he said.
“This is my way of giving something back to the sport I have loved.”
I can only wish him all the luck in the world.