x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Local athletes are upset that Dubai Fitness Championships are inviting world-champion competitors to take part this weekend's event, saying it deters local entrants.

Competitors in the Dubai Fitness Championship face a string of tough challenges that will test their strength and stamina. Courtesy Dubai Fitness Championship
Competitors in the Dubai Fitness Championship face a string of tough challenges that will test their strength and stamina. Courtesy Dubai Fitness Championship

DUBAI // Athletes are complaining that the Dubai Fitness Championships focus more on world champions paid to fly in and compete than supporting local talent and encouraging the public to embrace health and fitness.

Only five Emiratis are among the 36 male and 36 female competitors at this weekend's three-day final.

The local competitors are up against the likes of Lindsey Valenzuela and Kenneth Leverich, world-class CrossFit Games athletes who top the leaderboard this year.

Grant Goes, last year's winner in the men's category, is pleased about the prospect of competing against world-class athletes.

But he said that if the event was meant to encourage people in the region to become more involved with fitness and health, the focus had be on having more locals taking part.

"By bringing overpaid athletes you have cut down on the available spots that could have gone to more local talent, which would give them the experience and excitement this competition will bring," Goes said.

"It's like telling people there is going to be a Dubai Golf Championship open to everyone with a chance to win big money, and then paying Tiger Woods and other top professionals to come and play, so no one here actually gets to play or be involved."

Shaikha Al Qassimi, 23, started competing in CrossFit competitions this year but finds the world-class contest daunting.

"I personally think that it is unfair to Emiratis," Al Qassimi said. "I am new to competing and I have been training for a year, but when I found out international athletes will be competing I was honestly intimidated and lost my motivation to try hard.

"If you think about the amount of attention, money and training these athletes have gone through to get to where they are, our athletes aren't given the opportunity to be motivated.

"These athletes live and breathe what they do. Our athletes aren't encouraged enough to pursue it."

Mark Botha, regional head of marketing for the gym chain Fitness First, which held the qualifiers for the competition, said there were arguments for and against inviting international professionals.

"Do I want Dubai's fittest man to be based in another country?" Mr Botha asked. "Probably not, I want to showcase him here in schools and we can really cultivate the message after the competition through the winner, helping to break the obesity barrier and so on."

But he said having international athletes gave the competition credibility, although he could understand local athletes' concerns.

Candice Howe, one of this weekend's finalists and a CrossFit athlete based in Dubai, approves of bringing in the overseas talent.

"If the event is trying to put fitness in the Middle East on the map, it is succeeding," Howe said.

"If you look at the current leaderboard the top 10 are a mix of local and international athletes. This inspires the local community, in my opinion."

mswan@thenational.ae