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Leading UAE’s sprint for athletics glory

Ahmad Al Kamali, President of the UAE Athletics Association, talks to Gulf News.

Dubai: Once a champion long-distance runner, Ahmad Al Kamali is now the chairman of the board of directors for the UAE Athletics Federation (UAEAF). Since taking over the reins in July 2008, within a year Al Kamali has come up with a slew of changes that promise to place the UAE as one of the major contenders for medals firstly at the regional and continental level, and later at the Olympics.

One of his boldest moves has been to throw open athletics competitions in the UAE to all nationalities living in the country. And Al Kamali wishes to draw the benefits from such a decision as the country’s athletes aim for golden glory.

GULF NEWS: How have things been different since you took over?

AHMAD AL KAMALI: The first thing we had to do was get rid of this tag of being black-listed by the IAAF for non-participation and non-involvement for the past few years.

However, I met with IAAF President Lamine Diack in Berlin recently and convinced him of our seriousness in pushing athletics here. The next thing we did was to appoint a crew of specialists including technical adviser Larry Barthlow.

From having just two coaches, we now have nine coaches from various schools of thought including Morocco, US, South Africa and Bulgaria. That way our athletes get an ideal setting in their career paths.

So the challenge was dual – to convince the IAAF and at the same time attend to promotion of athletics at the domestic level?

Yes, very much. Technically it was such a problem to run the federation as we had just two coaches looking after 19 clubs. Today we have nine coaches for 20 clubs and the three specialised sports centres for athletics.

In addition, we are expecting another coach from Jamaica to join us shortly, and he will be in charge of the sprinters.

How satisfying has this initial period been?

The results speak here. Omar Juma Al Sulfa is currently ranked 25th in the world in 200-metres sprint, while Ali Obaid is ranked 19th in the 400-metres hurdles. We want them to improve on these rankings, and I am sure they will. In addition, we have five more of our athletes who will be knocking on the rankings very soon.

What sort of programme do you have for these athletes?

Our attention is divided between our elite athletes and the youngsters. Most of them are attending training camps in Morocco and Syria for the past few weeks.

There are so many competitions lined up for the group of 14 athletes till the end of the year starting with the Arab Athletics Championships in Syria from October 4-10.

We are second-best at the Gulf level and now our aim is to see where we stand in the Arab world. Our aim is to see that we finish in the top four in Syria.

How do you plan to do this?

We are concentrating on events that have medal prospects for us. Events like the sprint races, the 110 metres and 400-metre hurdles and the jumps.

What sort of programme will you have after the Arab Championships?

The squad will train at a special centre in Malaysia from the middle of October and then proceed to Hanoi (Vietnam) to prepare for the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships from October 30 to November 8. After this will be the Asian Athletics Championships to be held in Guangzhou, China. But our biggest target for the immediate future will be the Asian Games to be held at the same venue in China in 2010.

How has this journey of being the top UAEAF official been so far?

Very challenging I must say. We have our own difficulties as we do not even have our own stadium or track facilities or even an indoor track. Due to this we have to send our athletes overseas for specialised training. The athletes get home-sick after being out for such a long time. But we have already started getting our own specialised equipment to assist our training methods. In addition, we are in talks with the Dubai Sports Council to start work on a stadium that will house the most modern facilities for our athletes.

What is the way forward?

I can see some good things happening for athletics in the UAE. We have asked the governing body to allow us to host an important meeting like the IAAF Congress here maybe in another two or three years’ time.

This will be crucial as we attempt to bid for the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games.