Expo 2020 Dubai: When the world's greatest athletes lit up the world's greatest show

More than 500,000 participants and 30,000 events contribute to Expo 2020 Dubai’s blockbuster sporting legacy



Argentine star Lionel Messi and children at Surreal, the Water Feature during his visit to Expo 2020 Dubai. — Expo 2020 Dubai
Argentine star Lionel Messi and children at Surreal, the Water Feature during his visit to Expo 2020 Dubai. — Expo 2020 Dubai

By Team KT

Published: Wed 13 Apr 2022, 9:49 PM

Last updated: Wed 13 Apr 2022, 10:41 PM

Fitness and wellness events, training camps for children, international competitions, sporting exhibitions, and some of the world’s greatest athletes have actively engaged more than 500,000 participants and spectators throughout the six-month run of Expo 2020 Dubai – making it the most active World Expo ever.

With more than 30,000 events taking place over 180 days, the Expo 2020 site has been a hive of activity, with the Sports, Fitness and Wellbeing Hub alone providing 3,094 hours of sports programming and activities, playing host to some 6,000 sports, fitness and wellbeing classes and sessions. The International Pavilions, as well as Expo 2020 Dubai’s partners and departments, participated in the football, basketball and volleyball leagues, entering 250 teams.

Offering a diverse range of activities for all ages, interests and fitness levels, Expo 2020 Dubai’s Sports, Fitness and Wellbeing Hub, next to Mobility Gate, offers a state-of-the-art gym, five-a-side football pitch, two ‘Big Bash’ cricket nets, a multi-purpose court for basketball, netball, volleyball and tennis, and a global fitness stage with daily classes to get the blood pumping. It also played a crucial role in the city’s core fitness villages over the 30 days of the Dubai Fitness Challenge 2021.

Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. — Expo 2020 Dubai
Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. — Expo 2020 Dubai

Comprising the Sports Fitness and Wellbeing Hub Programme – which actively engaged more than 100 International Pavilions – the Expo Sports Arena Programme, runs, bike rides, Surreal yoga – with 21 unique morning yoga classes – Q&A sessions, meet and greets, and sports lounge activities, Expo 2020 Dubai was the place to be to smash fitness goals.

Promoting an active lifestyle and equipping children with essential life skills such as teamwork and sportsmanship, the Sports, Fitness and Wellbeing Hub’s extensive children’s sports programme saw the likes of Manchester City, AC Milan and Rajasthan Royals providing once-in-a-lifetime sessions for both boys and girls.

An eclectic mix of sporting events were hosted across the Expo 2020 Dubai site including the World Arial Gymnastics Championships, World Ten Pin Bowling Championships, World Muay Thai, World 3 on 3 Basketball, and the World Chess Championships.

Another undeniable highlight was the Expo 2020 Dubai Run trilogy, with the third and final run in the series on March 26 seeing 15,000 athletes cross the finishing line in 3km, 5km and 10km categories. In addition to this, Expo 2020 Dubai hosted 22 Run the Worlds, and 182 days of the Expo 2020 Running Club.

Kevin Brown, Vice President Master Calendar-Events and Entertainment, Expo 2020 Dubai said: “Sports, fitness and wellbeing has become an integral part of the eclectic mix of activities and entertainment here at Expo 2020. Together with the input of so many partners and official participants, we are proud to have delivered the most active World Expo on record, while amplifying Dubai’s reputation as being one of the fittest cities in the world.

Usain Bolt at the Bolt Pavilion during “Run The World” at Expo 2020. — Expo 2020 Dubai
Usain Bolt at the Bolt Pavilion during “Run The World” at Expo 2020. — Expo 2020 Dubai

“We are also privileged to have welcomed so many of the biggest icons and legends of world sport, including Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lewis Hamilton, Usain Bolt, Pep Guardiola, Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki, to name but a few.”

The Icons Wall at the Sports, Fitness and Wellbeing Hub is a veritable who’s who of international sporting superstars, featuring the likes of Spanish right back Miguel Ángel Míchel Salgado Fernández (October 5); Indian premiere league cricketers, The Rajasthan Royals (October 8); iconic American exhibition basketballers, The Harlem Globetrotters (October 29 and 30); Giro d’Italia Criterium cyclists Peter Sagan, Egan Bernal and Marc Hischi (November 6); the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt (November 13); Spanish professional football manager and former player, Pep Guardiola (November 15); the Kenyan running team including Jonathan Maiyo, Ferdinand Omanyala and Bethwel Yegon (November 18); one of the most successful players in Uefa Champions League history, Clarence Seedorf (November 19); Pakistani bowling phenomenon, Wasim Akram (November 26); legendary Portuguese midfielder Luis Figo (December 10); one of the greatest footballers of all time, Lionel Messi (December 13); pioneering chess Grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili (December 13); Bayern Munich player and Polish captain, Robert Lewandowski (December 18); and Uefa Women’s Player of the Year, Alexia Putellas (December 30).

Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton. — Expo 2020 Dubai
Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton. — Expo 2020 Dubai

The year 2022 kicked off with two-time former unified world heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua OBE (January 6); American professional golfer, Collin Morikawa (February 6); free-kick football specialist, Brazil’s Roberto Carlos (January 24); Europe’s most-capped player, Cristiano Ronaldo (January 28); the most expensive English player in history, Jack Grealish (January 28); Bulgaria’s Rhythmic Gymnastics team who won gold at Tokyo 2020 (February 8); the Ivory Coast’s all-time top scorer, Didier Drogba (February 11); Danish former professional tennis sensation, Caroline Wozniacki; former world number 1 tennis player Kim Clijsters; the king of on-court temper tantrums, John McEnroe (all on February 18), joint-record F1 World Drivers’ Championships holder, Sir Lewis Hamilton (March 14); and one of the greatest goalkeepers of all times, Spain’s Iker Casillas (March 19).

Because Expo 2020 Dubai never does anything by halves, it topped off the action-packed sporting calendar with a first-of-its-kind historic event: the Abraham Accords Games, which saw footballers from the UAE, Israel and Bahrain take on international legends including Ricardo Kaká, Carles Puyol, Robert Pires and Clarence Seedorf in a spirited match in front of a supercharged crowd.

During his visit, Usain Bolt summed up the significance of sport succinctly: “Sport has been used for many, many years to unite people across the world. And if there’s one thing that Expo 2020 Dubai has triumphed in, it’s been connecting people from across the globe to create a happier, healthier planet.”


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