A decision by the organizers to include Abu Dhabi’s Amateur Women League in the second season of the United Arab Emirates’ soccer league competitions could see the amateur league’s majority of Emirati women players refusing to play because matches would be in the open air with male spectators.
The decision to include the amateur league intended to grow the league further on its successful debut season in which women teams played behind closed doors. Emirati women players predict that their refusal to play in front of a male audience will mean that they will be replaced by expatriates.
"The idea was to have a grassroots football league where expatriates and locals can participate together because…you have the first and second division and nothing else after that," The Gulf News quoted Eric Gottschalk, CEO of Mediapro Middle East - the ADFL's joint-organisers with Reem Investments –as telling XPRESS.
"In regards to the women's league, we talked to the [Abu Dhabi] Sports Council, to the Women's [Football] Committee here in Abu Dhabi and with Reem and Mediapro together, and then decided to host the Abu Dhabi Football League and add a women's competition because we were able to have the women play indoors.
"So we expected a lot of local women to participate and in order to get used to playing football, they requested that it would be better for them for the first season to be playing indoors. But if you look at the way football is played and the way the Sports Council is promoting women's football, the game has to be brought outside, just like it is played in the rest of the world, and also because we are trying to attract all participants in the UAE. We want to open it up, as it's a league for the UAE, not a league [only] for Abu Dhabi local women," Gottschalk said.
Shaikha Al Kaabi, the captain of Team Abu Dhabi which won the inaugural event, said the decision could backfire: "I don't believe it will be as much of a success as it has been this year. I'm expecting most of the participants will be expats, not UAE nationals. We can't play in front of men, so it helped playing in a closed area and also encouraged the girls to come and participate as well," she said.
In an apparent admission that the plan may not work, Gottschalk said the United Arab Emirates Football Association (UAEFA) could agree to have the competitive league played outdoors and a league just for the local women being played indoors.
Gottschalk said the UAEFA had agreed to the roll out of an amateur league in all seven constituents of the UAE at the beginning of the second season in October. “So the next step would be to have a league in Fujairah and a league in Dubai. And this will hopefully have men and women. I don't think that we will have a women's league in Fujariah in the first season but we will offer it and then see what the feedback is," he said.