The Dubai Sports council (DSC) has launched an ambitious project in partnership with Capital Marketing to develop beach soccer in the UAE and make it more commercially attractive.
Beach soccer has already gained a firm foothold in the country with DSC having organised the the Asian qualifiers for the Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup since 2006.
Along with Japan, the UAE is considered one of the more consistent performers in beach soccer Asian nations on the international stage. The UAE have qualified for the Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup on three occasions – in 2007 and 2008 as champions of Asia - and then in 2009 as the hosts.
The inaugural UAE Beach Soccer League which begins on February 17 will be the beginning of new dawn for the sport in the country.
A total of 14 teams will be in action during weekends with the clubs having been divided as per zones with Fujairah Club hosting another four sides including Dibba Al Hisn, Masafi Club, Al Khaleej Club and Ittihad Kalba.
The preliminary rounds of the competition involving the Sharjah region will be held at Al Humriya Club and will pit Al Arabi Club, Ajman Club and the hosts to decide the two quarter-finalists, while the Dubai region competition to be held at Al Mamzar Park will feature Al Wasl Club, Al Nasr Club, Al Shabab Club, Dubai Club, Hatta Club and Al Ahli.
After the preliminary rounds of the competition, three teams each from the Dubai and Fujairah regions will join two qualifiers from the Sharjah region in the last eight stages.
All matches from the quarter-finals onwards will be held in Dubai from April 13 to 21.
In addition to the league, another two competitions will be held, namely the UAE Beach Soccer Cup in September and the Beach Soccer Super Cup featuring the winner of the League and the Cup on October 17, it was announced at a press conference held at DSC on Thursday.
More significantly DSC has commission Capital Marketing with all the commercial rights related to beach soccer in UAE. During the five-year term, Capital Marketing, in cooperation with the DSC and UAE Football Association, will work together to develop and promote the game of beach soccer throughout UAE, from the grassroots to the professional level.
Capital Marketing in consultation with DSC will bring to this endeavour the best global sports development practices, which will be required to ensure the project’s success.
The agreement grants Capital Marketing all commercial and marketing rights across all beach soccer assets owned or operated by DSC including but not limited to the UAE national teams and all current and future National leagues in beach soccer.
Such rights include media rights, sponsorship and marketing rights, licensing and merchandising rights, new league rights and any other commercial rights attached to any of these properties.
"Capital Marketing’s endeavour in association with Dubai Sports Council is to build the sport from grassroots to professional level so that a sustainable sporting model is created providing the platform for the national teams to reach their full potential on the international stage," said Umang Suri, chief operating officer of Capital Marketing.
"We'll be working very closely with Dubai Sports Council in bringing out the commercial aspect of the game because there is lot of things that needs to be developed. We have experience of working in terms of developing concepts which are of national interest such as Dubai Fashion Week," he said.
"There is a lot seriouness with Dubai Sports Council to their vision to take beach soccer forward and they wanted a partner so that we can work together. We understand the need for the national team to be pretty strong. But that's not where it ends. There is a lot of developmental work that needs to happen from a grassroot level. So we'll be concentrating on developing a lot of clubs and schools so that there is a lot of participation and interest level which is generated," said Suri.
This Capital Marketing's first venture into sports in the region but they are not rookies when it comes to football marketing.
"As a group we have been doing a lot of sports activities especially football in India. We've had a team that understand sports management and development of it," he said.
Their objective is to make beach soccer a family oriented activity.
"Beach soccer is a cousin of football. Lot of interests level is already there. It's just that we need to absorb lot of family apart from the youth as well. We hope to have lots of entertainment during the league formation," he added.
The DSC also wants to reach out to the expatriate community via beach soccer.
"We want the interaction of the expatriate community, not only locals. We notice soccer in UAE is very much local-oriented. We don't want that situation," said Rashid Al Kamali, an official of DSC.
Capital Marketing's real work will start from September.
"The league is a soft launch we are doing for beach soccer in order to understand the challenges to evaluate the areas that we need to focus from September. Starting from logo, branding on the ground, activities that should be there for the fans, etc. Our objective is to transform the business side of the sport into a very commercial and dynamic venture," added Kamali.
"We want to create a platform for local players whent they retire to come into beaah soccer. At some stage we are talking about teams if they can to bring international players. We want that high level of performance to happen on the beach game as well. Talent spotting is part of the process but our vision is to make it a professional league," said Al Kamali.
UAE's beach soccer national coach Marcelo Mendes also welcomed the league because it would not only help to spot talent but also keep referees active.
"We have good referees here in UAE but why they don't train is because we have may be two competitons in a year. Now we can look forward to games for three months. Referees can work, players can train and the national team coach has a chance to find good young players," he said.
Although he had no objection to foreigners playing in the league, he felt it was more important to give chance for locals to play so that they can get selected for the national team.
He dismissed the notion that beach soccer was an ideal pastime for retired players.
"Here in UAE there was one example Bhakeet saeed. It is not easy when they retire to come to beach soccer. It is very hard to play on beach. We travel and play in nice places but it is not for fun," said Mendes who has seen the growth in popularity of the sport in the UAE for the past five years.
"If the ex-players they want to play in the national team, now that we have the league, first they should play in the clubs. If they do well there, they will have a chance in the international team," said the Brazilian coach who wants to focus on youngsters.
"We need players in the age of 20, 22 or 25. It doesn't mean national team is closed for old players, for the famous players from the soccer. It's open but they have to show fitness and good skills to join the national team," said Mendes who has two beach soccer schools in his native Brazil.
"The technique is different. Normally in football you play with ball on grass and you make crosses. In beach we have try to play with ball in the air because it is difficult to run with the ball on the sand. Technique, skills and fitness is different," he explained when asked whether the skills required in beach soccer and the regular game were different.
"There are players in Brazil, Portugal, Switzerland and Russia today who play beach soccer but dont play soccer on the field," he added.