Image Credit | Al Dhafra FC
Arabian Gulf League

On July 2, the League committee announced that it intends to give 13 clubs national licensing for the upcoming season. However, it left out Al Dhafra FC on account of “non-compliance with the financial criteria”. This article will investigate this decision, its implications on Emirati sport, and Al Dhafra’s upcoming appeal.

Arab Gulf League Denies Al Dhafra Club National License

On July 1 2020, 13 was the unlucky number for Al Dhafra Football Company. The Arab Gulf League issued all but one of its 14 clubs a national license for upcoming competitions. Implemented by the UAE club licensing system’s First Instance Body (FIB), these licenses aim to ensure clubs fit the minimum requirements outlined by FIFA to operate professionally. According to the FIB, Al Dhafra lost out on a national licence due to “non-compliance with the financial criteria”. Fortunately for the club, their administrators have a chance to appeal the decision before the upcoming season kicks off on September 3.

UAE club licensing began development in 2013, extending FIFA’s licensing initiative to standardise and improve club football worldwide. In order to receive a license, clubs must meet six key areas of official criteria: sporting capability, infrastructure, administration personnel, legal capacity, and finances. If and when a club fails to achieve these goals, they fail in one of two ways: “B”, where a club may still receive a license but must face FIB sanctions, or “A”, where they do not obtain a license and face sanctions anyway. As the FIB withheld Al Dhafra’s license, the club must have failed to meet the financial standards in an “A” category manner.

The sanctions for this issue range in severity, but can be game-changing. Al Dhafra must have run awry of the Pro League Committee (PLC) 2020-2021 guidelines. Spanning a 270 page PDF, the guidelines provide a thorough testament to the Emirates’s high sporting standards in meticulous legalese. As Al Dhafra failed in a category “A” issue, the guidelines prescribe a fine of up to AED 100,000 (one hundred thousand Dirham), or around $27,000.

They may also face a litany of sporting penalties, listed from the letters “a” to “u” in the PLC’s licensing guidelines. Al Dhafra could be hit with anything from “e) a match ban”, to “m) relegation”.

The only one of the 14 teams in the Pro League to miss out on a license, the Al Dhafra Western Knights are in many ways an exceptional club. Based in Medinat Zayed, their founders created the club in the year 2000 as the only one of its kind in the Western Emirates region. Keen starters, the team finished as champions of the UAE First Division League (FDL) in the 2001-2001 season, and kept a formidable standard of football ever since. An organisation that belongs in the Emirates’s top flight, the UAE Pro League, Al Dhafra’s spells in the FDL prove few and far between.

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Most recently relegated after a bottom place finish in the 2010-2011 season, Al Dhafra returned a year later to be a strong mid-table mainstay in the Pro League. They finished a fairly typical seventh in the 2019-2020 season, interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

As the most westerly team in the sparsest region of the UAE, Al Dhafra’s games sometimes suffer to low attendance. The club clocked the two lowest attended games in the last two seasons. Only 39 spectators saw Al Dhafra lose to Dibb Al Fujairah in the 2018-2019 season. However, that year also brought fresh optimism, as the club qualified for their first ever UAE President’s Cup. The plucky newcomers almost stole the show, finishing the Cup competition as respectable runners up.

Before that 2018-2019 season, Al Dhafra passed the licensing criteria with flying colours. Al Jazira Football Company became the only club denied a license by the FIB that year. These licensing standards serve to maintain the Pro League’s professionalism and uphold sporting excellence as an important part of Emirati culture. Only time will tell whether Al Dhafra, under new manager Vuk Rašović, a former Serbian defender, can appeal the FIB’s ruling and defend their place in the league.

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