The climbing scene in the UAE feels pretty dysfunctional these days, or at least in a state of uncertain flux. Depressing though I sometimes find this, it’s reassuring to be reminded that organised sport can sometimes be no better.
Last Saturday – during prime climbing conditions – I devoted a day to supporting my eldest son through Abu Dhabi’s first ever street-football tournament. This is a fast-paced 2-a-side version of the game played on small walled-in pitches. It’s pretty entertaining. Son #1 is a talented and tenacious footballer and had teamed up with his similarly-strong best friend for the event. Combined they thought they had a decent chance of winning the U12 competition, which offered 1000 dirham prize money as well as a cup, even though there were more than twenty teams in contention. They sailed through their group stage, with a 40+ goal advantage. However whilst waiting for other groups to complete they spotted another team in action with two obviously larger and older kids, one of whom they knew to be definitely 13 or older. Reluctantly I decided to highlight this to the organisers, not least as there seemed to be many children upset about it. The organisers insisted they’d investigate. My son also confronted the over-age boy who admitted his age and that he’d lied when registering for the event. It was so obviously uncontentious that the offending team should be disqualified that I thought nothing more about it. Amongst numerous factors, there were several teams of thirteen year olds competing bravely in next age bracket – U17 – for whom the unfairness of someone of their age being able to compete in a younger bracket would be massive.
The quarter-finals passed easily for my son and his friend. However I was shocked to discover that they were drawn against the over-age team, who apparently hadn’t been disqualified, in the semi-final. The kids asked me what to do: whether to raise the issue immediately or try to win. I suggested the latter. They drew 1:1 in the match time then were forced into a sudden-death play-off. The ball was kicked out of the match area and the referee suggested throwing in one from a spectator to save time. This was done, my son’s friend scored and that should have been that. However the referee changed his mind and disallowed the goal. The over-age team got the next one and were deemed to have “won”. My son and his friend went straight to the organisers to contest their knock-out. After hearing a pompous and illogical public statement as to why the over-age team hadn’t been thrown out and why the referee’s bizarre decision in the offending game had to be honoured, they left in tears. Of all the aspects of this I found most distasteful, it was a brief conversation with the parents of one of the over-aged players, who saw no shame in their child’s dishonesty. The event was led by an outfit called Street Kings but the bulk of the administration delivered by Manchester United Soccer School in Abu Dhabi, who would appear to condone lying and cheating as a path to sporting success.
The next day I had the day off to climb and performed very poorly, perhaps due to tension from the previous day. However any competition was between I and the rock. The rock always plays fair and we never have anyone to blame but ourselves.