Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix

The future of sports in the region- is the UAE set to become the up-and-coming destination for international sports events?

As Expo 2020 is upon us, the eyes of the world are also here. Many people who have not visited the UAE or the region before will be doing so over the next six months.

As well as enjoying our wonderful lifestyle, there’s no doubt many will take advantage of all the Emirates offers in terms of sport.

For the last eight years, Abu Dhabi has taken the World’s Leading Sports Tourism Destination Award in the annual World Travel Awards; Dubai took the award in 2012.

The region already plays host to the Bahrain Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, well-established, key elements of the hugely successful global series of races.

In addition, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia is set to host its first Grand Prix in December this year, exciting news for the region and further evidence of its superb sporting facilities and commitment to encouraging sports tourism.

Let’s not forget the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, a globally significant tennis tournament held in the emirate for 28 years! Notably, the Dubai Tennis Championships is the third tournament in pro tennis history to award equal prize money for both men and women.

And we can’t talk about sport in the region without mentioning the enormous efforts of Qatar in organising the next FIFA World Cup 2022.

Our region has long held a deep love for football, and this event will surely be a crowning moment for the game across the GCC.

With teams from 32 nations heading to Qatar next year, the event bodes well for large-ticket global sporting events, and hosting such a phenomenal event will surely bring enormous economic benefits – and useful lessons in terms of logistics.

Golf is a huge part of the regional sports landscape here. There are a number of world-class, renowned events each year, including the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which has a pedigree spanning more than 30 years.

Next year’s event sees a new title sponsorship (Slync.io) and it has been added to the Rolex Series, with an incredible increased prize fund of US$8 million.

DP World Tour Championship is the exciting final of the European Tour Race to Dubai. Played out on the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, this event always attracts great interest and offers prize funds of some US$9 million.

There’s also the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, another European Tour event, which has been held at Abu Dhabi Golf Club since 2006.

Other notable golf events include the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Qatar Masters is another European Tour golf event, hosted by Doha Golf Club. When founded in 1998, it was one of only two European Tour events staged in the Arabian Peninsula.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia is also developing its global golf presence. The Saudi International, presented by SoftBank Investment Advisers and hosted by the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, near Jeddah, will next year be sanctioned by the Asian Tour as part of a new 10-year partnership. The prize fund has grown to US$5m.

Of course, cricket is another enormous passion in our region, with the UAE currently playing host to the Indian Premier League matches, and the International Cricket Council (ICC) Men’s T20 World Cup to be held in the UAE and Oman this year.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s recently-formed Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) launched a National Cricket Championship, the biggest ever cricket tournament in the Kingdom’s history.

More than 7,000 players and 360 teams took part in the mega-competition played across 11 cities and more than 100 pitches in the Kingdom, which finished in June and heralded as a success.

Dubai Rugby Sevens has been a regular sporting fixture of the global rugby scene, normally heralding the start of the Sevens season.

However, this year’s December event is even more exciting and interesting, as it will include cricket and netball matches – with most teams coming from outside the UAE.

The idea behind the move is to make the weekend more accessible, inclusive, and interesting to an even wider audience.

Dubai Sports Council states that around 1.5 million people regularly engage in sports and physical activities in the emirate.

More than 400 sports events, including 130 international events, are organised in the emirate. In addition, the city is home to more than 400 academies delivering training in all kinds of sports, and we have access to more than 100 public and private sports clubs.

Given the world-class facilities, excellent weather and diverse landscape, I believe our region will become even more prevalent on the world’s sporting calendar.

Measured legislation and the emirate’s rapid, effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic have made Dubai a preferred destination for international sports investors.

A new MoU recently signed between Dubai Sports Council and Dubai Economy is set to activate the sports aspects of Invest in Dubai, the digital platform designed to ease the process of establishing a business in the emirate.

At the time of signing, the parties said the agreement will encourage private investment in Dubai’s sports sector and help institutions operating in the sector.

And more recently, we’ve seen the launch of a ten-year blueprint designed to bolster sports in the Emirates. The Dubai Sports Sector Plan seeks to promote Dubai as an attractive market for sporting investors and entrepreneurs.

It aims to promote Dubai as an innovation hub, an ideas and technology incubator that will help define the future of sports and eSports, and a pioneer in using artificial intelligence in sports.

Proposals within the plan envision bringing the headquarters of many International Olympic Committee-recognised sports federations to the emirate.

Furthermore, there are plans to increase the number of Arab and international teams and athletes using Dubai’s sports facilities to help prepare for international competitions.

The decade-long scheme also envisages building more sports academies and fitness centres in Dubai and increasing the number of sports events held.

Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said robust infrastructure had shaped Dubai’s sports sector.

He revealed the sports sector’s contribution to Dubai’s economy now exceeds AED4 billion ($1.09 billion) annually, as the city continues to develop as a major venue for global sporting events.

Since the beginning of 2021, Dubai has hosted over 70 training camps and friendly matches for international teams in different sports, including swimming, synchronised swimming, modern pentathlon, cycling, tennis, football, badminton, cricket, rugby and golf.

It holds attraction for Olympians too – many participants in this year’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, including the Olympic men’s badminton champion, Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, have chosen Dubai as a base.

A combination of government-backed incentives, innovation, infrastructure and attractive surroundings has made the Middle East increasingly important for global sporting events teams and training.

Not only will this encourage us all to indulge in more fitness-related activities, but it will undoubtedly boost the region’s economies, provide jobs and increase the value of sectors like manufacturing and equipment suppliers.