How UAE became a world-class sporting destination

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Indian cricket fans during the Asia Cup match between Pakistan and India at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on September 23, 2018. (AFP file)
Indian cricket fans during the Asia Cup match between Pakistan and India at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on September 23, 2018. (AFP file)

Dubai - This year, UAE is looking forward to hosting more events, having already hosted the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in June

By Arsh Asthana

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Published: Fri 20 Aug 2021, 6:31 PM

Last updated: Fri 20 Aug 2021, 6:47 PM

Over the years, UAE has emerged as a world-class sporting destination. The country has proved its credentials on the global stage when it comes to hosting cricket, football, Formula One, tennis, golf and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) events.

Dana White, UFC president, was so impressed with the Fight Island events that he hailed Abu Dhabi as the fight capital of the world. The American businessman was bowled over by UAE’s anti-virus measures as the UFC resumed their premier events on these shores following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

This year, UAE is looking forward to hosting even more events, having already hosted the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in June.

The country is now gearing up to host the remaining matches of the Covid-19-disrupted Indian Premier League (IPL) and the ICC T20 World Cup during September, October and November.

Playing host to major cricket tournaments is not a foreign concept for UAE. Cricket came to these shores as early as 1981 when Sharjah started hosting elite international players, three years before hosting its first international tournament.

Since then, UAE has gone from strength to strength, hosting the first half of the 2014 IPL and the entire edition of the 2020 IPL. It even hosted Pakistan’s international matches after the 2009 Lahore terror attack robed the south Asian country of cricket for almost a decade.

A country that brought international cricket in the 1980s is now getting a chance to host one of the biggest tournaments in the world – the ICC T20 World Cup (October 17-November 14).

The tournament was scheduled to be hosted by India, but the pandemic situation forced the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to bring the tournament to UAE and Oman, which will host a few matches in the preliminary stages.

Khalid Al Zarooni, the Vice President of the Emirates Cricket Board said, said UAE is well-prepared to host the premier T20 tournament featuring 16 teams.

“Emirates Cricket Board is honoured that the BCCI (Board of Cricket Control India) and the ICC (International Cricket Council) have entrusted us with staging and delivering the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup,” Al Zarooni said.

“The UAE’s reputation as being a safe country in which to host high-profile sporting events is a strong compliment to our government’s unwavering commitment to implementing and monitoring effective health practices during the pandemic. Having hosted a number of high-profile tournaments in recent months our team is well-prepared and ready to mobilise to ensure the success of the T20 World Cup.”

What makes the UAE such a favourable destination for global sports tournaments is its high vaccination rate and the government’s strong support towards sports development.

According to The National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority, the UAE has administered over 17 million doses and more than 72 per cent of the country has been fully vaccinated.

On the back of the highly successful vaccination drive, the government has now allowed vaccinated football fans at 60 per cent of the stadium capacity in UAE Pro League matches, raising hopes for cricket fans in the country ahead of the IPL and T20 World Cup.

According to a Deloitte report on the economic impact of sport in Dubai, over 1.7 billion dollars have been spent in total annual expenditure related to sport in Dubai, and the total economic impact of sport in Dubai is over 670 million dollars.

Tariq Butt, a veteran UAE-based cricket umpire, is delighted with the rapidly improving sports industry in the country.

“So far I can say it has grown tremendously. Cricket has come a long way whether it’s local or international events. And with events like the IPL and T20 World Cup it will get a further boost,” Butt said.

“It is a big achievement and a good initiative from ICC and BCCI to host these events here so youngsters can get a chance to watch and learn and grow.”

Rahul Nandkumar, an avid cricket fan, says UAE’s diverse population has also played a big role in helping sports grow in the country.

“With such a diverse expatriate population in a small country like the UAE, laying a foundation for any sport is possible. Thanks to the freedom given by the sports councils to host the most popular cricket tournament here twice, cricket has been followed and grown more in this country” said Nandkumar who supports the Chennai Super Kings.

And Saurav Sathish, who supports the Punjab Kings in IPL, is incredibly happy to get a chance to watch international stars in UAE.

“It’s a thrilling prospect to see international cricketers playing in the UAE. It boosts the appeal of the sport in the country as well,” Sathish said.

UAE has truly come a long way in terms of its sports infrastructure and hosting international sporting events.

In 1984, the iconic Sharjah Cricket Stadium hosted the first-ever ODI in UAE, which was between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Now over 35 years later, it has hosted over 200 ODI matches and is looking to add to its tally in the ICC T20 World Cup.

The T20 World Cup is going to be a new milestone for UAE, a country that has hosted the who’s who of sports over the years – from Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus.

With the vision and support of the government, UAE has firmly placed itself as one of the world’s greatest sporting destinations.

World-class events in UAE since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic:

UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi

Dubai World Cup

Indian Premier League (IPL)

Pakistan Super League (PSL)

Qualifying round of the Australian Open Grand Slam

Dubai Tennis Championships

WTA Abu Dhabi Open

Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix

Dubai Desert Classic

Abu Dhabi Golf Championship

Golf in Dubai Championship

DP World Tour Championship

UAE Tour

2022 Fifa World Cup Qualifying rounds

Upcoming events

2021 Indian Premier League

2021 T20 World Cup

UFC Fight Island

Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix

DP World Tour Championship

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