UAE Olympic squad to London 'unique': Al Serkal

'Qualifying like the football team did give a glorious feeling'

A "unique feature" of the largest UAE contingent that will compete at the forthcoming London Olympic Games is that they are going via "qualification" and not through "invitation", said a top official of the UAE National Olympic Committee (NOC).

The UAE's Under-23 football squad created history earlier this month when Mahdi Ali's boys came back from two goals down to clinch a dramatic 3-2 win against Uzbekistan in Tashkent to top their qualifying group.

At least three shooters - Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, Sheikh Juma bin Dalmouk Al Maktoum and Dhaher Al Aryani - have already qualified in the double trap and skeet events for London.

The UAE Athletics Association is also hopeful that at least three of its athletes will meet qualifying timings and make it to London when the Games are held from July 27 to August 12.

The nation is also expecting Shaikha Maitha bint Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum to qualify to the Taekwondo competition, along with one of its swimmers.

"For possibly the first time in the history of the UAE we will have a squad with majority of its members who have gone through the entire qualifying process to make the trip to London," said Yousuf Al Serkal, Vice-President of UAENOC on the sidelines of the general assembly chaired by Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Monday.

"The main feature this time is our football team's qualification for London following their win against Uzbekistan earlier this month. And the second feature is that our sportsmen will be in London because they have qualified, and not because they have received invitations like in the past," he said.

"This only means that sports in the UAE have progressed in the past four years and having our sportsmen qualify to a prestigious event like an Olympic Games gives us a completely different and glorious feeling," Al Serkal added.

Al Serkal, the Interim Committee President of the UAE Football Association (UAEFA), admitted that much of the credit for this progression has to go to the nation's leadership, led by the President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

"He received the current and outgoing board of directors of the UAEFA and now we have Sheikh Ahmed gracing the general assembly of the UAE NOC. This is a significant step for us as this can only encourage us all towards greater heights. It also shows us that there is someone who cares about sporting activities in the UAE," Al Serkal said.

"Sheikh Ahmed's presence tonight conveys the important element that he cares for the various sports in the UAE, and that he is someone who wants to know at close quarters what is happening," said Al Serkal.

In his opening address, the head of UAENOC urged the country's athletes to strive for excellence to ensure a memorable Olympic Games in London this summer.

"I am happy and pleased with the results our sportsperson have achieved, particularly our national squad that qualified to an Olympics in football for a historic first time. I wish all of our sportspersons the best of luck and hope they can excel and go for gold in London," said Sheikh Ahmed.

"As officials and sportspersons we all have one single goal and that is to strive for excellence all the time," he added.

The assembly then endorsed several key decisions, particularly the setting up of the National Olympic Academy from the beginning of next month.

"The academy will undoubtedly reflect Sheikh Ahmed's vision which is not to overlook the educational aspect in the development of sport. This academy's main purpose is to combine sport with science and education so that we can achieve our goals," said Mohammed Al Kamali, secretary general of the UAENOC.

Several commercial sponsorship deals were also announced including a new partnership with the Commercial Bank of Dubai.

"The NOC has always depended on the government for funding. Now we have looked towards the commercial sector and the feedback and cooperation has been great," explained Al Kamali.

"Instead of having an umbrella of commercial funding for the NOC, we assigned an individual sponsoring company to each sport which we are counting on getting qualifying spots for London. And we created some sort of competition between them," he added.

The general body also ratified the inclusion of several new associations such as rugby, billiards and snooker, golf and rowing under the umbrella of UAENOC, while also accepting proposals for competing at various international and regional competitions.

The competitions include the Asian Beach Games in Hayanj, China (April 16-22); the Asian Under-16 Youth Games in Sakha, Russia (July 4 to 16); London Olympics (July 27 to August 12); and the Gulf Beach Games in Saudi Arabia (November 9 to 16).

Sheikh Ahmed congratulated representatives from key UAE NOC sponsors such as BP, Procter & Gamble, TNT and Commercial Bank of Dubai, and key media partners.

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