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Football first | Welcome to soccer central in Abu Dhabi

This article was produced in association with Abu Dhabi Sports Council

Abu Dhabi will take centre stage as two of the world’s top football competitions, the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017-2018 and AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, come to town. Alexis Dijksterhuis of Abu Dhabi-based ticketing and events company FLASH Entertainment is relishing the prospect.

Q: How did Abu Dhabi secure the FIFA Club World Cup for the second time?

AD: Abu Dhabi first hosted the FIFA Club World Cup from 2009-2010. We’re almost a decade on from that and a lot has changed. FLASH itself only began operating in 2008, when the events industry in the UAE was very much unexplored territory. At that time so many of the basic foundations for live events weren’t established.

Security, F+B, ticketing systems, an understanding of sponsorship, health and safety codes – all of this had to be built from the ground up and FLASH has played a central role in that.

Abu Dhabi’s offering is far more sophisticated than it was eight years ago. Our infrastructure and our experience as a host city are now best practice for the region and amongst the best in the world, and that certainly went a long way to securing the bid.

The perception of the region from the international community has also shifted dramatically since 2009, with the UAE now firmly established as a tourism hub.

The idea of travelling to Abu Dhabi for leisure is no longer a foreign concept, and part of what makes it such a strong candidate for a host city is its hospitality.

At FLASH, we know the value of this and we work very closely with the local hotel, travel and leisure sectors to make the whole Abu Dhabi experience – from the moment you book your seat on the plane to touchdown back in your home country – unforgettable.

There is no doubt in my mind that the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017-2018 will be truly world-class.

Q: What does hosting the competition mean to Abu Dhabi economically and socially?

AD: In the next three years, we are bringing two of the world’s most significant football events to the UAE in the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017-2018 and the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019. The eyes of the sporting world will be on Abu Dhabi and naturally, this will have a substantial economic impact.

The world’s fans will travel with their clubs to support them in our stadiums, and we expect a significant amount of inbound tourism across the tournaments. This has a direct impact on our airlines, our hotels, our hospitality industry. Matches will be broadcast across all continents of the world, with significant revenues from broadcasting rights expected. 

Hosting major global sporting events is a key component of Abu Dhabi’s vision of establishing the Emirate as a world-class leisure and entertainment hub. But for your average football fan in Abu Dhabi, it’s a chance to see Gareth Bale’s famous left foot, or Cristiano Ronaldo putting the ball in the back of the net. Those are memories that will last a lifetime.

Q: How does hosting FIFA Club World Cup UAE fit into Abu Dhabi’s strategy for sport and tourism?

AD: For Abu Dhabi, sport and tourism go hand in hand. Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC) unveiled a new initiative, Sport in Abu Dhabi, to encourage more visitors to train, watch and compete in the Emirate. FLASH has a central role to play in this and we are working in partnership with ADSC to deliver the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017-2018.

Successful sporting events like the Abu Dhabi Tour cycling race and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship already make up a strong portfolio that bring international talent to the region and attract visitors each year from around the world. FLASH’s flagship events like the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship and Yasalam, the city-wide festival celebrating the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, not only contribute to a thriving calendar of year-round sport, but also deliver grassroots programmes that leave a lasting legacy in the community. 

The FIFA Club World Cup is one of the most significant tournaments on the football calendar. Hosting it will give Abu Dhabi another opportunity to showcase our credentials as a host city to millions of people around the world, and to some of the most important governing bodies in sport.

The FIFA Club World Cup is one of the only major tournaments where you are guaranteed to get clubs from every continent taking part and so it allows us to strengthen our reach into markets around the world both from a sporting and tourism perspective.

Q: What facilities will be used ?

AD: The tournament will be played in Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium, a newly constructed state of art football stadium in Al Ain, and the 40,000+ capacity Zayed Sports City Stadium, in Abu Dhabi. Fans will remember Zayed Sports City Stadium as a venue of the FIFA Club World Cup 2009, and this year it will play host to spectacular Opening and Closing ceremonies.

We’ve been working hard to ensure the stadiums are ready for a tournament of this calibre. Our operations team are upgrading the venues to ensure all FIFA competition standards are met, and creating a look and feel that will reflect the unique energy of a live football match. Our broadcast and media set-ups will be state-of-the-art to ensure that anyone around the world can tune in and feel like they’re right there in the stadium with us.

As we get closer to kick-off, we’ll be expanding our team by more than 300 volunteers and 400 security personnel per game to make sure every fan has a great experience.

Q: What was learned from hosting in 2009?

AD: That was a first for Abu Dhabi – and for our own team in 2010 – hosting an international football event of that scale. It was new territory for the stadiums, with a lot of things to take into consideration and, of course, everything had to meet FIFA’s exacting standards. 

The event industry was in its infancy in 2009 and hosting such an important global football tournament was a steep learning curve, even in the single year between the 2009 and 2010 tournaments, which really pushed the industry forward and laid the foundations for many of the events that came after. We’re always looking forward and each new event allows us to build upon our expertise and continue to grow our international portfolio.

Q: What are your expectations for the impact of the tournament?

AD: Hosting the FIFA Club World Cup UAE is another chance for Abu Dhabi to showcase its credentials as a host city, welcome visitors from all over the world to experience our world-class hospitality, and encourage more visitors to train, watch and compete in the Emirate. With the AFC Asian Cup following in 2019, the eyes of the sporting world will remain on Abu Dhabi as the tournaments play out in our stadiums and fans celebrate around our cities. 

Q: How does FIFA Club World Cup hosting link to the Asian Cup in terms of learning and preparation?

AD: Even for seasoned events teams, every big event is an opportunity to grow and build on your skillset. The AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 kicks off in January 2019 and will see 51 matches played across the UAE over almost a month. The finals will be the biggest in the tournament’s history with eight more teams taking part than in 2015 – 24 of Asia’s best sides will battle it out to be crowned champions of Asia. The matches will be played in eight stadiums across the UAE.

In scale, it is certainly a bigger operation and naturally we will use the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017-2018 – as we do every event we stage – as an opportunity to test our operations and take learnings forward so that we can continue to create truly world-class experiences.

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