In a few days, UAE will be hosting the 17th edition of the most coveted continental tournament – The Asian Cup. The nation had previously accommodated the event in 1996 wherein they ended their campaign as runners-up to Saudi Arabia losing out in the penalty shoot-out in front of a packed 60,000 Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
While approximately 448,000 fans were recorded to have witnessed the twenty-six matches in the respective stadiums in 1996, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) based in UAE is expecting to do better than its predecessor when it comes to enticing the audience to walk through the turnstiles. In 2015, host nation Australia recorded 649,705 spectators across the 32 matches played in the four week period.
Tourism Australia’s managing director John O’Sullivan said the Asian Cup has been the biggest football tournament Australia had ever hosted.
“The great thing about a tournament like this, spread around the country and over time, is that these were international visitors who stayed longer, travelled further and spent - ultimately injected millions of dollars into our visitor economy benefiting hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and our tourism attractions,” said Mr. O’Sullivan.
Australia was able to capitalize on its community ambassador program that led to a successful tournament, where members of the program, mainly comprising of volunteers, worked tirelessly within the nation’s diverse communities to aid in making the 2015 Asian Cup widespread among those communities.
The impact of a successful community program would also buoy the economic impact of the host nation. There are a number of reasons cities bid for and host major sporting events. While these vary depending on the nature of the event the common benefits of hosting such events include the actual economic impact, destination branding, consumer surplus, civic pride and facility legacy.
“Bidding for and hosting major events can be an expensive exercise. As such when considering the decision to invest in a major event or a major event strategy, it is critical to fully understand and evaluate the many benefits that flow from hosting such events. These benefits are more than just event driven tourism. The procurement and staging of major events is also important in terms of industry development and productivity, broader tourism benefits from enhanced branding of the host city and improving and maintaining the ‘social fabric’ of the region,” says Mr. Matt Colston, Associate Partner who deals with sports, events & venues advisory at Ernst & Young in Melbourne, Australia.
UAE, a home to over 200 nationalities, has always defined itself as a culturally and socially diverse nation based on the values of tolerance, respect, coexistence and compassion. Hence, it would only be in its favor that the turn out for the tournament would supersede the past few editions.
Additionally the expanded nature of the current edition gives way for additional matches to be played thereby assisting with attendance, however a lot of effort would be required to keep the momentum and excitement of the tournament alive on the ground prior and during the tournament.
Beginning July a 100-strong team was put in place to use their influence to create buzz around the communities across the nation.
Speaking during the launch of the program, His Excellency Aref Hamed Al Awani, Tournament Director of the Local Organising Committee, put emphasis on the importance of individuals who could inspire and connect with individuals.
“AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect our nation through the beautiful game. The UAE is home to over 6 million people who are from the nations competing in the tournament. That’s who we want to reach through our Playmakers. By igniting the national pride that lives inside these fans every team can feel they’re playing at home. Every team can have a passionate 12th man,” said H.E. Al-Awani.
Since then several initiatives have either been concluded or are currently in effect; initiatives ranging from an amateur community football tournament to interactive roadshow to a schools program which featured 60 schools across four Emirates. Additionally, a wide women’s football initiative called #Itsmygame was recently launched which saw more women than ever before be engaged in football across the UAE.
AFC General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John said: “The AFC’s It’s My Game campaign has made a powerful impact in a number of countries across Asia. Through the events held in the UAE, the foundations have been laid to encourage further participation and we hope that Its My Game can help create a lasting legacy for female sport in the UAE.”
The overarching objective from these community initiatives during the 2019 Asian Cup LOC is to connect the different cultures according to Ahmed Al Qubaisi, Director of Marketing and Communications, Local Organizing Committee.
“The short and long term objective of the LOC is to Bring Asia Together. With that in mind our events and community initiatives have been designed to connect cultures, fans and nationalities through a common love of football,” said Mr. Al-Qubaisi.
For Australia, the success seen through the ambassador program primarily worked with certain communities with the concept being drafted to drive similar results within the nation’s domestic football.
The benefits of the community involvement program is playing its part with a few weeks remaining.
“The community ambassador programme has helped extend the spirit of the AFC Asian Cup into each and every community across the UAE, meaning that everyone living and working in the country can experience the excitement of the tournament,” said Mr. Al-Qubaisi.
Could it just be as beneficial in implementing the same to increase attendance levels across UAE’s Arabian Gulf League if the success from the Asian Cup preserves a strong diverse foundation?
The nation will have to wait and see but for now the community ambassador initiative could prove to be the legacy UAE could leave behind after the 2019 Asian Cup concludes.