SANDRA AIGNER / AIPS* in DUBAI —– Yousuf Al-Serkal, chairman of the UAE Football Association, is absolutely convinced of the pace of football development both locally and across Asia.
In an exclusive interview for AIPS at UAEFA headquarters here in Dubai the most powerful football figure in the host country of the FIFA U-17 World Cup spoke about the significance of the tournament as it reaches its climax.
Al-Serkal expressed not only his hope but his firm belief in the potential of Asian football and not only because the FIFA World Cup will be staged in Qatar in 2022. He also acknowledged that there remained many lessons to learn.
What effect will staging the FIFA U-17 World Cup have on football in UAE?
We love football, like the rest of the world. Football is the No1 game in UAE. So from this feeling we always like to host FIFA events: for example, we have hosted the FIFA Club World Cup twice. I believe the more competitions we host, the more attention we bring to the game for the clubs, for officials and for the government side.
We have many nationalities living here but they are more interested in seeing international football on TV than coming to the stadiums.
So in hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup we focused through the media in attracting these different nationalities and I believe we have succeeded. We have also attracted a lot of spectators to come even though they are not ‘related’ to any of the countries participating in the World Cup.
We are hoping that we will attract them, eventually, to the local games, to the local competitions, that we organise. We are bringing an entertainment to the people who live in UAE so this is helping us develop the game more and more.
Where do you see football in Asia now?
It always needs more development. We have some countries of which we are very proud such as Japan or Korea or Iran.
Those countries are acheving a good standard of football. I also believe that many other countries – especially ones which never used to pay any attention to football such as India, Pakistan, large countries with large populations like China – are now giving much more attention to the game and this will help the development of football in Asia.
Do you think that the centre of football is moving to Asia, considering the 2022 World Cup coming to Qatar?
It is a big event to have the World Cup in the centre of Asia. We hosted the World Cup before in South Korea/Japan. This will be a different location geographically. Of course, it is under the scope of the world, the media, and the attention of the people.
They are all following how Qatar will succeed or will Qatar continue hosting. But Qatar has always succeeded in organising big events. For example the ‘Asian Olympics’ were organised in a very good way.
They were very successful. I am sure, Qatar will succeed in 2022. This is also giving a lot of attraction to football in Asia and this will help definitely the development of the game.
What happened to the UAE league while you have been staging the FIFA U-17 World Cup?
We continued playing. We did not stop it for the World Cup because of other participations of our clubs – for example in the Asian Champions League. We were afraid that the two events, being held together, would have a negative effect on each other but, honestly, they did not.
The spectators continued going to the local game while we also had spectators going for the U-17 World Cup. It’s all been positive.
What does the future for football in UAE appear?
In 1990 we qualified for the World Cup. Since then we have always had good standard of football.
Last year our team qualified for the Olympic Games in London so then we [promoted] the Olympic team to be our senior national team. Our first competition after that was the Gulf Cup in Bahrain last year.
Our players were just beginners in representing UAE as the first national team. But we were able to win the competition to be the champion of the Gulf Cup. That is a very good indication for the future.
So these young boys were champions of Asia for U-19s, they qualified for the London Olympics and then won the Gulf Cup as our first national team. Now we are leading our group in the preliminary matches for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.
It looks like we have a good future with this team. I believe they can challenge in 2015 for the Asian Cup title and then go on and qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.
We will be there!
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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