A groundbreaking new law actioned by UAE president H.H Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan will pave the way for expats to play for the country’s national teams.
From this September, anyone who resides in the Emirates will be eligible to join sports clubs and potentially represent the UAE.
The ruling also includes men who are married to Emirati women as well as all children born in the UAE.
Sheikh Khalifa initially made the decree in November 2017 but the precise regulations and conditions put together by the UAE General Sports Authority were approved by the Federal National Council on Monday.
The law will come into being in September, with Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithy, president of the General Sports Authority, optimistic about what it could mean for the future of UAE sport.
“It was approved on Monday and we are announcing it today,” Al Rumaithy was quoted as saying in The National. “Indeed it’s a groundbreaking occasion in the history of the UAE sports and we are extremely delighted of the milestone.
“The expats community that has helped us to build the nation is now provided the opportunity to play a role in sports.
“This is a long-awaited need for the expats community. Their participation in local sports will create a bigger pool of players for the national federations aside from the competition they will provide for the Emirati players.”
All UAE sports federations will begin implementing regulations in September and local clubs can start the registration process.
“We are excited and honoured to issue this statement for the participation of players in this category as it will encourage more athletes to participate in different sports,” added Al Rumaithy.
“Of course this is a pathway that’s new and we’ll have some teething problems at the beginning. We’ll know where we stand at the end of the first season and if amendments are required, we are prepared to do that.”
A number of the country’s expat sports – including netball and rugby – already have a high number of foreign players but the UAE Football Association, as well as the basketball, volleyball and handball federations, will be the first to trial the new approach.
As part of the new law, UAE football clubs can register an unlimited number of expats in their male and female teams from ages 4 to 18.
But only six players – three born in the UAE and three residing in the country – can be included in their Under-18, Under-21 and senior squads.
The General Authority for Sports has requested the respective federations make their own proposals and guidelines with regards to the participation of the new registered players.
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“As of now football [it] is open for all registration except youth and first team which the federation will approve,” said Ibrahim Abdulmalik, general secretary of the General Sports Authority.
“This is just for registration. In the three years, each federation will approve one or two players.
“Some of those federations may request to approve all and we might approve them all. However, the authorisation will come from the government.”
Aref Al Awani, a board member of the General Sports Authority and general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, added: “The initiative came from the country’s leadership and it will benefit our players and national teams.
“It will help us fill the stadiums with lot of families and fans. Obviously there will be a lot of talent emerging and those making it into the national teams.”