From Usain Bolt to the Harlem Globetrotters, Expo 2020 welcomes biggest sports stars

With an even bigger sports venue opening on the Expo site in January, more sporting giants are expected to visit Expo 2020 Dubai

By Wam

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Usain Bolt at Expo 2020 Dubai. — AFP
Usain Bolt at Expo 2020 Dubai. — AFP

Published: Mon 27 Dec 2021, 11:37 PM

At Expo 2020 Dubai, the visitors never know whom they might run into. Sports fans in particular have been in for a treat as the mega-event reaches its half-way point, with visits so far from some of the world’s biggest stars and a brand-new sports venue, opening in January 2022, set to welcome many more sporting giants.

Earlier this month, Argentine footballer and Expo 2020 Dubai Ambassador Lionel Messi – fresh from his recent move to Paris Saint-German, and also claiming his record seventh Ballon d’Or trophy, once again crowned the world’s best player – told us what he thought of Expo. "Something extraordinary each pavilion has its own thing, its own place," he said. "It shows you its culture, its country, it makes you see and learn from each one of them. It’s all very big, very impressive."


And from one of the best footballers in the world to the globe’s fastest man, Usain Bolt dropped in just weeks earlier to host a charity fun run. The retired Jamaican sprinter is still the world record holder in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay, and echoed Expo’s message of using sport to bring people together. "For me, just watching sports in general, and as a sports person, it’s massive," he said. "One example: in Jamaica, when the Olympics is going on, the crime goes down to zero and when the World Cup is going on, everyone is watching. So, I feel sport plays such a big part in helping the world come together."

With state-of-the-art sports and fitness facilities, and coaching schools with the likes of AC Milan, Manchester City and the Rajasthan Royals, there is never a shortage of sporting names visiting the Expo site. Pep Guardiola, the manager of Manchester City, was very impressed during his own visit: "It’s been a wonderful experience to witness the energy of grassroots football here at Expo 2020 Dubai, and to see how the club connects with people around the world. The enthusiasm for the game demonstrated by the next generation of aspiring players is marvellous."

Expo has seen visits from Olympic and Paralympic athletes, Tour de France cyclists, Formula 1 drivers (and its CEO, Stefano Domenicali), Premier League footballers, cricket legends, karate champions and the globe’s top chess players.

Talal Al Hashemi, National Director of Special Olympics UAE, said: "Expo 2020 Dubai is quickly becoming a global platform to operationalise inclusion, in sports and in life, and to make sure that people of determination are empowered as we connect minds and create the future."

Even basketball exhibition team the Harlem Globetrotters got to showcase their skills, while visitors got a glimpse of the Premier League trophy and the European Cup.

Former England rugby union player James Haskell described Expo 2020 as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity", while other sports stars were blown away by their home country’s pavilion. Ferrari Formula 1 driver Carlos Sainz Jr was among them. "As a Spaniard, it makes me feel very proud – I’m impressed by the whole set-up," he said during his visit. "I don’t spend enough time in Spain because of the travelling, and I live in Italy, so this has been a good opportunity to be reminded of my country and all the cool places it has."

Female athletes visiting Expo help to encourage participation and interest in women’s sports – Lancashire and England women’s cricketer Kate Cross was very impressed by the site. "I couldn't grasp how big it was going to be, you have to see it to believe it," she said. "At the Emirates Pavilion, they showed me what aviation is going to look like in 50 years’ time, and how sustainability is going to be a big part of that. It’s all really exciting."

So, who else might be visiting over the remaining three months? With an even bigger sports venue opening on the Expo site in January, the question should be, which other sporting names can you think of? Running until March 31, 2022, Expo 2020 has invited visitors from across the planet to join the making of a new world in a six-month celebration of human creativity, innovation, progress and culture.

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