Football, or soccer, has long been among the most popular sports in Bahrain. Despite being a small country of only about 1.4 million people, Bahrain is home to 20 national football clubs, in addition to the national football team, which became a member of FIFA in 1966. In recent years, Bahrain has grown competitive in regional football, winning its first title at the 24th Arabian Gulf Cup in Qatar in 2019. In January, Bahrain dominated in the group stage of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup but lost to Oman in the semifinals, taking third place overall in the tournament won by Iraq, the host country. Bahrain’s Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has been the president of the Asian Football Confederation since 2013 and is a vice president of the FIFA Council.
Enthusiasm for football has permeated Bahraini society and has fueled the development of both men’s and women’s professional teams. Futsal, the faster-paced relative of football usually played indoors on a hard, court-like floor, is also increasing in popularity in Bahrain. Futsal is more inclusive of different age groups and abilities, and, being indoors, games aren’t disrupted by extreme temperatures in warmer climates. Additionally, futsal is a great way for competitive football players to increase the pace of their game and refine their foot skills and ball control. The AFC Futsal Asian Cup is one of the largest futsal tournaments globally, the most recent of which was held in Kuwait in 2022, and the Saudi, Bahraini, Omani, Iraqi, and Kuwaiti national teams were among the 16 countries that participated.
AGSIW spoke with Ebrahim Khalil Al Mohammed, co-founder of the Bahrain Futsal Academy, to learn more about the development of futsal in the country. Established in November 2022, BFA is the first futsal training academy for youth in Bahrain. It is led by a team of three co-founders brought together by their passion for playing and coaching young athletes.
AGSIW: What is your background with football and futsal?
Ezo: I started with football at age 9 with my hometown club, Al-Hidd. I actually got my nickname, Ezo, from football. When it came time to pick a nickname, something a coach or your teammates can yell across the field, I thought of Zinedine Zidane’s nickname “Zizou,” and shaped that into “Ezo.”
Over the years, I progressed all the way to team B of Bahrain’s under-20 national team. In 2016, when I was 17, I had the opportunity to try out for the under-20 national futsal team and became the youngest player on the team. From there, I started developing my futsal skills. Our team made it to the Asian Federation Cup Championship, which was hosted in Bangkok, in one of the most prestigious futsal stadiums in the world. Unfortunately, in this tournament we weren’t the best team, especially because Bahrain’s futsal program was still developing at the time. Futsal came to Bahrain in 2010, and so by 2016-17 we still didn’t have the youth age groups, just the first national team. The only game we won in Bangkok was against Brunei.
After that, I moved to Dubai to continue my education, but I continued playing football professionally until 2018, when I rejoined the national futsal team. At that time, as the oldest player and the team captain, I competed with the team in the AFC qualifiers, which were held in Fujairah, in the United Arab Emirates.
AGSIW: Why did you decide to open the Bahrain Futsal Academy?
Ezo: I tend to enjoy a fast, aggressive style of play, which futsal provides more than football. I thought that, since I have over 10 years of experience playing, why not create something that I can contribute to the community – to the next generation?
BFA is the first academy in Bahrain that specializes in youth futsal training. Our other two co-founders are Ahmed Alamer, who works as a media analyst at the Central Bank of Bahrain and owns Majalat Al-Ahmar, a sports news outlet, and H.E. Jassem bin Mohammed Alchuban, a judge on the High Civil Court and former player for the Bahraini club Muharraq. When futsal started in Bahrain, he was one of the first players. I knew him from playing against him years ago, and I knew that he had a great reputation in futsal. He shared the same vision that I have for futsal – that it needs to be fast and entertaining.
AGSIW: What trends are you seeing in futsal in Bahrain?
Ezo: When futsal came to Bahrain in 2009, it was seen as a sport for old men. Futsal has a smaller field, fewer people (five players and one keeper), and shorter games. We nourished the sport over the years through Ramadan tournaments, hosted by members of parliament, city governors, and ministers, for both children and adults to participate. Another Ramadan staple in Bahrain has been Douri Al-Banook, a futsal tournament for bank employees, and this trend is expanding to include other sectors, such as cross-ministry, police, and military tournaments.
This year, BFA hosted the first Ramadan futsal tournament for youth under 10 years old. For me, the inspiration for this tournament came from my memories playing in some of these local Ramadan tournaments. I remember being a part of the excitement – the crowds, the atmosphere of the game, the media coverage – and I wanted to bring this to a new age group.
AGSIW: Tell us a bit more about the Ramadan tournament.
Ezo: The tournament took us a few weeks to organize, and we were fortunate to have lots of support from our partners, sponsors, and many VIP guests. We partnered with the International School of Choueifat on Amwaj Island in Muharraq to host the tournament. I attended and graduated from this school.
In addition to the venue, we also relied on our personal connections to secure sponsorship from the Saudi Telecommunications Company.
We thought hard about what type of VIP guests we wanted to bring to the tournament – we wanted people who would be recognized by both the kids and their families. We brought Ismaeel Abdullatif, the top scorer from Bahrain’s national team, other legends from the Muharraq Club, like Ali Hassan and Mahmoud “Ringo” Abdulrahman, and legendary goalkeeper Hamood Sultan. We also hosted H.E. Ali Al-Majed, the secretary general of the Bahrain Paralympic Committee; Abdulla Dawood, the vice president of Bahrain’s Al Najma Club; and Hélio Sousa, the head coach of the Bahrain National Team.
AGSIW: What other support have you received from your community in setting up BFA?
Ezo: When you set up a business here, the first step is to have a commercial registration from the Ministry of Commerce. It was difficult at first to get the approval because we’re called “Bahrain Futsal Academy” – an official name that represents the country. We knew that this would be an issue, at first, but we pushed through. Then we got approval from the Ministry of Youth and Sports for coaching certifications and physiotherapists.
We’re hoping, inshallah, to get government support as well on initiatives we’re planning for the future.
AGSIW: You started BFA in November 2022, as the World Cup was being hosted in Qatar. How did that inspire you and the broader football community in Bahrain?
Ezo: When the World Cup happened in Qatar, a lot of people who had been used to sitting indoors all day during the COVID-19 period started doing outdoor activities. It influenced many other types of sports as well. There’s a club called the Tri-Athlete Factory in Bahrain, where kids and adults can practice running, cycling, and swimming. Bahrainis didn’t expect for the World Cup to be as big as it was, and the excitement it generated motivated the whole community in Bahrain.
I was fortunate enough to attend a few World Cup games and it was phenomenal! The atmosphere, the vibes, everything about it inspired me to come back to Bahrain and continue setting up this project.
AGSIW: After all that BFA has accomplished in just six months, what are you hoping to achieve next?
Ezo: We have partnered with a school to provide training services to it and the entire region of Muharraq. We’ll have four age categories of coaching sessions for both boys and girls. We hope to have more tournaments soon as well.
For me, BFA is still far from becoming my full-time job. In order for my co-founders and me to leave our day jobs, we need government support. Our future hope is to get land and build a futsal hall and gym facility.
AGSIW: Finally, what is the driving force that inspires you for this project and your other endeavors on and off the football field or futsal court?
Ezo: I thrive under pressure – I need a lot of things to happen all the time. When I was on the national team for the first time, training twice a day with them in addition to training with my club team and attending school full time, my life was nonstop business. But then, after we played in the tournament and I went back to my “normal life,” I missed it.
The same feeling hit me while I worked at the Bahrain Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. I worked practically 12-hour shifts, just because I needed more. A lot of my inspiration for this project came from playing in the Expo World Cup, when I played on the Omani Pavilion team. Playing in that tournament in front of crowds of people watching and cheering, feeling all of the emotions and anxiety that come with playing competitively again, it reminded me of my childhood.
I saw the same intensity in the kids I coached during the tournament. We made it to the semifinals, and they were so anxious because over 200 people attended the game. When we lost 2-1 – fair play to both teams who played very well – my kids were crying. They really felt it. It broke my heart to see them so devastated, but I told them: “This is a learning experience – we’re not always going to win. But when we do, remember, we’re not at the top of the world. And when we lose, we’re not at the bottom.”
That’s what I see as my most important role for these kids – not just as a coach, but as a teammate and team captain. A coach will give you direction and tactical point of view, but a true player will give you that on-the-field support both physically and emotionally.
is an associate director at the U.S.-UAE Business Council and former intern at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. She worked as a youth ambassador at the USA Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai and received her BA in international studies from American University.
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