ABU DHABI // Despite the odd spot of rain and the grey and gloomy skies, the sporting spirit of thousands of budding athletes shone through as National Sports Day kicked off in the capital on Thursday.
Teams, gyms and sporting clubs from across the capital offered free sessions in dozens of group and individual sports as well as a range of fitness classes for people to try out at Zayed Sports City, with all levels well catered for, from casual to competitive athletes.
Aside from the more well known sports such as football, people had the chance to try something a little bit more unusual with Zumba aerobic classes, martial arts and even a roller derby to choose from.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Zayed, head of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, joined the day’s organised walk, and expressed his pleasure at taking part “and to see the great crowds from all sectors of the community, athletes and students”.
“The annual event is a way for the leadership and the community to get together and promote well-being and health, said Barry Bremner, general manager of Zayed Sports City. “It has been a really exciting day. National Sports Day offers lots of ways for people to get active, with some activities being more popular than others,” Mr Bremner said.
“For example, football is one of the most watched and participated-in sports in the world, but not everyone has been exposed to tennis or ice skating,” Mr Bremner said.
“The variety of things on offer is what makes this celebration of National Sports Day so special – people get to try new sports and really find ways to enjoy fitness as part of their lifestyle.”
The stadium hosted students from across the emirate with youngsters of all ages given the chance to try their hand at new activities, such as archery and rugby.
“I didn’t really understand it but after a while I was playing many sports,” said Sara, a nine-year-old pupil from Emirates Academy.
Anja Ernest, junior manager of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins Rugby Club, was happy to explain the ins and outs of the oval ball game to the boys and girls.
“It’s really key to introduce people to a sport that might not be so popular but definitely one that can teach key skills like teamwork and perseverance,” said Ms Ernest.
For the more athletically minded who did not fancy getting involved in a team sport, the stadium step challenge posed a real challenge, with fitness fans required to race up and down the tennis stadium steps, as well as do burpees, push-ups and squats, while the Hercules challenge tested people physically with an obstacle course, and mentally with a series of puzzles to be solved.
Michael Haddins of Haddins Gym explained the benefits of working out in a group and the encouragement that comes with being active with others.
“Days like this allow people in the city to come together around common interests, here you can find new sports, activities and surround yourself with like-minded people,” he said. “Too many of us lead sedentary lifestyles and we are putting ourselves at risk of countless health issues.”
He hoped that with such a wide range of sports and fitness activities on offer to try, it would be easy for people to find one they liked and were willing to stick at in order to lead a healthier, more active lifestyle.
He said it was especially important for children to stay active because habits learnt while young would have an impact for a lifetime.
“For the sake of achieving and maintaining good health, children are meant to move,” Mr Haddin said. “In this day and age most children spend hours sitting in chairs and in front of technology. We believe that fitness has to be fun,if you have fun doing something it never feels like work. Trying new activities gives you the opportunity to find what you enjoy doing.”