While the UAE is a country in the desert it is certainly not in the sporting wilderness.
Spectators and participants are well served by facilities with the country now host to a number of high-profile events.
A vital piece in a jigsaw carefully constructed by Abu Dhabi’s sporting hierarchy fell into place earlier this year at Emirates Palace. Securing stopover rights for the Volvo Ocean Race over the new year of 2011-2012 completed the much sought-after package of “air, land and sea” international sporting events. “This is a great day in the campaign to establish Abu Dhabi’s credentials in the world sporting arena,” said Mubarak al Muhairi, the director general of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), as he signed an agreement to host the elite of the sailing fraternity when they arrive in the UAE on completion of the second leg of their round-the-world race.
On land, of course, is Formula One. The inaugural Grand Prix at the end of last year was a glittering highlight of the sporting calendar, silencing those who said that the Yas Marina Circuit couldn’t be finished on time. The showpiece occasion, when Germany’s new hero Sebastian Vettel led home his New Zealand teammate Mark Webber for a Red Bull one-two, proved historic in providing F1 with its first day-night race.
The “air” leg of the air, land and sea project was fulfilled when ADTA persuaded the Red Bull Air Race to touch down in the capital. Not content with just bringing the global flying circus to the city, the tourism authority’s chiefs wanted their own piece of the action. Consequently, the Austrian flying ace Hannes Arch, the world champion of 2008, has assumed the title of the Flying Falcon, bedecked with team colours in the distinctive Team Abu Dhabi Edge 540 plane. It’s not just the ambitious air, land and sea initiative that has put Abu Dhabi on the global sporting map, however, and the UAE as a whole is home to international tournaments in major sports such as golf, tennis, horse racing and cricket.
Football is the most popular sport in the country with the national league called the Pro League.
Abu Dhabi played host to the Club World Cup in 2009, when FC Barcelona took a dramatic victory over Estudiantes de la Plata, the champions of South America. At the end of this year, Inter Milan, who beat Bayern Munich in the recent Champions League final, will be the stars of the repeat performance in what promises to be another magnificent occasion in the capital.
The sport that promises to do most of all in enhancing Abu Dhabi’s reputation as an action holiday destination is golf. Until this year, the capital was outshone by its neighbour Dubai, but the opening of the seaside courses at Saadiyat Beach and Yas Links to accompany the well-established National Course presents golfers with a top-quality holiday itinerary.
Abu Dhabi has been enthusiastically seeking to provide a warm-weather base for a variety of other sports. Cricket’s Zayed Stadium has been home to the Pakistani players, deprived of international cricket in their own country because of ongoing security issues. Tennis gained a significant foothold at the start of 2009 with the launch of a star-studded exhibition tournament, won in its inaugural year by Andy Murray and captured this year by Rafael Nadal.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship programme was also staged recently at Yas Marina. A magnet for fans of no-holds-barred combat, the “Invincible” show in April had thousands battling to claim the high-priced tickets.
Finally, the 2009 IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia was held in Abu Dhabi, and saw the UAE beat Thailand in the final. It was a triumph on the capital's ice. Yes, ice. With the population coming from all corners of the globe there is also thriving recreational sports scene, and whether you prefer team sports, adventure sports, individual pursuits or personal fitness, there really is likely to be something for you, and it could even be on ice.