With big crowds, celebrity spectators and lucrative prizes, there are many reasons to get active during the Holy Month, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
Holy Month of Ramadan: Make it a sporting night to remember
Fahad Usman was drenched in sweat as he tugged his massive kit bag through the car park of Dubai's Zabeel Park, walking toward his car with teammates in tow.
It was 11pm, but there was nary a breeze. The weather was as stifling as it could get in the peak of summer. Usman had just spent more than three hours on a cricket field, leading his team, Dnata, in the Dulsco Ramadan Twenty20 cricket tournament.
"To be honest, the weather is not supportive for cricket," Usman said, his voice husky from dehydration. "It's so humid."
Of course, the weather is just a "challenge" and it refuses to dim Usman and his teammates' enthusiasm.
"It is a great platform for new teams like us," he said. "This is the first Ramadan tournament for us and we have enjoyed it a lot.
"It's got to be cricket first, whatever the weather. If tomorrow I am going to play in India, the weather might be severe. But if I am playing in Australia or New Zealand, the weather is going to be different. So a cricketer needs to adjust accordingly."
The challenge, of course, does not intimidate enthusiasts like him. And there are thousands of them, including Pakistan cricket stars such as Abdul Razzaq and Imran Nazir.
Ramadan tournaments are being held across the country, in virtually every sport. Participants range from as young seven to 70.
Many others have set up volleyball courts or football fields in their neighbourhoods for a night of sporting activity, staying awake till the early hours of the morning before returning home for Suhoor – the meal before the start of the fast – and then the morning prayers.
There is no dearth of enthusiastic audiences as well. In Khor Fakkan, a football tournament for boys between seven and 14 that attracted 225 participants, boasted crowds in excess of 2,000 on each of its three days.
The turnout at the Dubai Police Officers Club, where the matches of the Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Ramadan Football Tournament are being played every night, is not as high. But it does not really matter for the teams and players. They have a bigger incentive - a purse of Dh1 million, with Dh200,000 going to the champions.
Among the youngsters making an impact at the tournament is Algerian Mounir Burajo, winner of many local and Arab talent competitions, and one of the 100 teenagers selected by Nike for a camp at Barcelona.
Burajo, 18, attracted plenty of interest during his stay at Barcelona, including French club Nantes and FC Dallas, but Burajo dreams of playing for the UAE someday. He has signed a five-year deal with Al Ahli of the Arabian Gulf League.
"I received many offers from French, Spanish and American clubs, but I love the UAE," he said.
While the Dubai Police Officers Club was host to a number possible stars of the future, including Burajo, the Nad Al Sheba Ramadan Championship was the abode of superstars.
The Argentine football legend Diego Maradona was there as a guest and so was Brazilian great Falcao.
Some of the world's top paddle tennis players like Argentines Fernando Poggi, Cristian Gutierrez and Sebastian Nerone had come down to participate in the Championship.
With Dh6m on offer as prize money, the championships has attracted thousands of participants, including locals and expatriates, and overseas participants, with competitions being held in five disciplines – volleyball, five-a-side futsal, paddle tennis, a 70km cycle race and a 10km road run.
NAS Ramadan has plenty on offer for the fans as well, with six winners returning home with the latest smartphone or tablet. With such goodies on offer, the air-conditioned halls of the Nad Al Sheba club are a cacophony of noise late into the night.
"I could not have thought of a better activity to engage the youth during such an auspicious month," Maradona said. "This is a great initiative."
The benefits are self-evident.
"This tournament helps the youth to invest their time and energy in a positive activity," said Nasr Al Neyadi, captain of the Sky Dive team.
"Coming here and taking part in the competitions here, or other Ramadan tournaments across the country, is a good way of cleansing your mind and spirit in this auspicious month."
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE