View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Row, Row, Row Your Boat from Fujairah, UAE to the London Olympics

New Beginnings
There is little modern rowing activity to be seen at the moment in Fujairah but the new UAE Rowing Committee has its sights firmly fixed on participating at the London Olympics.

In January 2009 the UAE Sports and Youth Authority established the UAE Sailing and Rowing Federation, appointed members to two committees—sailing and rowing—and declared that UAE rowing should be centred and fostered from Fujairah (sailing is to be supported from the capital).

Modern Rowing
Those present at the foundational meeting in Dubai last January recognized that no matter how much the traditional UAE rowing teams improve they will never be able to go outside the country and test their skills with other nations.

The desire of the UAE Sports and Youth Authority and the new UAE Sailing and Rowing Federation is to encourage traditional rowing while establishing the sport of modern rowing so that national teams may compete on the international stage.

Traditional rowing and sailing in dhows will be organized separately and will continue to come under the auspices of the UAE Marine Sports Federation. The future relationship between the two federations—traditional and the modern—is essential, strategic and delicate.

There exists a strong culture of traditional rowing in the United Arab Emirates. Fujairah was selected as the new base for modern rowing because of the eastern emirate’s proven strength and the success of its teams in traditional rowing.

The leaders of the modern form of rowing will be scanning the members of the traditional rowing teams to pick those who might have the potential to row their new boats while promoters of the traditional sport may fear that their best rowers will be head-hunted and that their ancient sport will die. The challenge for these groups will be to affirm the importance of traditional and modern rowing and discover ways in which both forms of the sport will enhance and encourage the other.

While some basic skills in rowing are common to traditional and modern rowing, the two sports are vastly different in the boats that are used, the technique of rowing, the training required and the rules that govern the disciplines.

Breadth of Modern Rowing
The Fujairah-based Rowing Committee under the leadership of Ahmed Khodom Al Saadi has been active this year in understanding its task, developing the vision and planning an initial rowing calendar.

Under their responsibility is the encouragement of three aspects of the sport viz. canoes/kayaks, modern rowing (with its many classes) and dragon boats. Internationally these sports have their own federation and in time the UAE will need to have specialist trainers to develop the emerging teams.

Purchasing Boats
Already twenty-five kayaks have been purchased by the Fujairah-based committee and they had their first outing during the recent Ramadan. As indication of the interest that exists, forty people lined up to paddle in the twenty-five kayaks.

A dragon boat has been acquired and training the first Fujairah team is to commence in November with a view to participation in the East Coast Dragon Boat Festival hosted by Fujairah in February 2010.

One of the critical strategy decisions to be made is which of the eight classes in modern rowing will the UAE aim to engage and compete—eights, coxed four, coxless four, quadruple scull, coxed pair, coxless pair, double scull and single scull. Will the UAE Rowing Committee develop all eight classes at once or will there be a determination made to aim for a priority in a few classes? These prior questions are currently being discussed by the committee and the decisions will be reflected in the purchase of boats.

Training and Coaching
The UAE Rowing Committee has already made a significant decision in the appointment of its National Coach and Technical Manager. Mr. Mehdi Garidi from Algiers in Algeria has been hired and he is already hard at work from the UAE Sailing and Rowing Federation office high up on the top floor of the Fujairah International Marine Club ship-shaped building.

“Mehdi was hired,” Mr. Ahmed Khomdom said, “Because of his extensive rowing experience representing Algeria, his role on the Algerian rowing technical committee and as one who has had made a significant contribution to national team training.”

The chairman continued:

“We must have someone who can speak Arabic but in Medhi we have someone who also speaks English and French and a sportsman who has considerable experience and contacts with international and national rowing federations. His role is three in one involving trainer, technician and public relations.”

Initially Garidi will have oversight of all forms of modern rowing in the UAE but eventually specialist coaches will also have to be appointed to develop those in the particular classes.

Targets and Milestones
Under the chairmanship of Ahmed Khodom and the new national coach, the Rowing Committee has their sights set on some significant targets. They want UAE rowers to be involved at some level in the rowing world championships in New Zealand from 31 October-7 November 2010, they are eager to participate in the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China between 12-27 November 2010 and the calendar has been marked for the 12th Pan Arab Games in Doha, Qatar between 9-23 December 2011. All these milestones will be stepping stones to the ultimate prize which is participation and success in the 2012 London Olympics. “There is nothing greater,” said Chairman Ahmed, “than hearing your national anthem and seeing your flag flying at an international sporting event.”

Bright Future
There is a sense of determination and a spirit of optimism as the Fujairah committee put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together.

The committee is confident that Fujairah will become a strong basis from which rowing clubs will emerge in all the emirates of the UAE. “Fujairah has traditionally been based on only two activities, fishing and agriculture,” said Khodom. “The people of Fujairah are very experienced in matters of the sea. The expertise acquired in the rowing boats over centuries to yield fish to feed families will soon be turned to bring national honour through rowing as a modern sport.”

For All the Community
The proven support of the Fujairah community at the various events sponsored by the Fujairah International Marine Club will be invaluable as rowing takes off in new directions. The community atmosphere will not be lost as Family Days already have a place on the rowing and sailing calendar and the committee is keen to see modern rowing and its associated events as new ways to build community spirit.

While rowers who represent the country will be drawn from the Emirati community the committee has an all-inclusive approach to the future of modern rowing in the UAE. “Already we have lots of plans for encouraging rowing among boys, girls, women, men and those with special needs whom we should not forget,” said Chairman Ahmed.

Interest has been shown by some tertiary colleges in the UAE and this is likely to find expression in the establishment of intercollegiate modern rowing regattas as has been held in England for years.

Marine Club Support
Major Ahmed Ibrahim Mohamed Darak, the Managing Director of the Fujairah International Marine Club, is delighted at the choice of Fujairah to serve as the base for developing modern rowing in all the emirates. He has already granted office space to the new Rowing Committee and the substantial body of experience his Marine Club has acquired in promoting international marine sports will no doubt help in the fostering of the modern rowing sports.

New UAE Coach of Modern Rowing Starts Work in Fujairah, Fujairah in Focus, 15 November 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: “The Fujairah-based Rowing Committee under the leadership of Ahmed Khodom Al Saadi has been active this year in understanding its task, developing the vision and planning an initial rowing calendar.”