In a country surrounded by deserts, UAE is one of the world’s fastest-growing cities. It has seen great success in various economic fields and is one of the global leaders in terms of entertainment, luxury, and clean energy. These successes and constant advancements are a driving force in attracting the ever-increasing influx of tourists, skilled professionals, and worker immigrants. This intermingling of cultures has introduced UAE to a variety of modern sports.
The sports played in the past by natives are still practiced today, which includes horse racing, camel racing, and falconry. But with outsiders coming in and the growing infrastructure of Dubai and Abu Dhabi more and more sports are becoming popular. UAE hosts a multitude of international sporting events and has one of the best cricket stadiums, race tracks, and golf courses. Following are a few of the most popular sports in the UAE:
Football has gained so much popularity across the globe, that it can rightly be called a global sport. And it’s taking UAE by storm. You can observe this change through the rise in the sheer number of football clubs, teams, and academies that are mushrooming up all across the country. The biggest sports facility, dedicated to football, across the nation is Zayed Sports City located in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE Football Association has been promoting the love for this sport ever since its establishment in 1971. And this love for the sport was further boosted when UAE’s national football club qualified for the FIFA World Cup, in 1990. Currently, UAE ranks 71st in FIFA world rankings.
Cricket in terms of popularity in the UAE is only second to football. And UAE has welcomed and facilitated this sport with open arms. A testament to that sentiment is how the principal governing body of the sport, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has set up its headquarters in Dubai.
Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium is the most prominent cricket stadium of UAE and as of December 2019, it boasts a world record of hosting the highest number of one-day international (ODI) matches, 240. UAE has also hosted the 2014 Under-19 Cricket World Cup. The UAE national cricket team has qualified for 2 world cups, in 1996 and 2015. Although the UAE cricket team includes a lot of ex-pats, there are also some prominent homegrown talents such as Mohammad Tauqir and Sultan Zarawani.
Whether it’s economic growth or motorsports, Emiratis are obsessed with speed. Motorsports is one of the fastest-growing modern sports in UAE, its first-ever race was held in 1981, during the Dubai Grand Prix at a purpose-built circuit in Deira Corniche. This race featured celebrity races, sports cars, touring cars, and even a Formula One race. Abu Dhabi’s 5.6 km long Yas Marina circuit has hosted the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix since the 2009 season.
The dry and sandy terrain of the desert country provides the perfect conditions for off-road racing and dune bashing. This is why the Dubai International Rally and the Middle East Rally Championship have found their home in the deserts of UAE.
Golf is a popular sport in the UAE and its popularity is seeing a steady rise, especially with the large number of families that coming to watch the games. The country already has many world-class golf courses, out of which three are PGA championship courses, and many are under construction. Dubai also hosts the annual European Tour golfing event such as the Dubai Desert Classic, which features some of the world’s best golfers competing for a prize pool of over 1 million USD. According to independent research, The European Tour’s 2013 DP World Tour Championship that was held at the Jumeirah Golf Estates earned Dubai an estimated gross economic benefit of 44 million USD. Apart from golf championships, UAE also has a lot of academies, in fact, Middle East’s first golf academy, Creek Golf & Yacht Club is located in Dubai.
For centuries the natives of Arab states and the Persian gulf have enjoyed camel racing as a sport, and despite the arrival of modern sports, this traditional sport is still very popular in the country. The UAE now has 15 race tracks spread across the seven emirates
Formalizing the traditional sport and introducing government regulations were essential to maintaining its central role in UAE life. However, to prohibit underage jockeys from racing, robot jockeys are now used for racing.
Horse racing or endurance riding is another popular traditional sport in UAE. Endurance riding involves racing for long distances on horseback. Perhaps it’s even more popular with the natives than camel racing owing to the easy availability of necessary equipment. Recently a 19-year-old UAE rider, Al Muhairi won the young rider world championship. Dubai also hosts one of the richest horse racing events in the world, the Dubai World Cup.