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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 16 August 2018

Emirates takes pole position on the world’s sporting circuit

The National at 10: From F1 to football, from cricket to jiu-jitsu, the nation is the torchbearer for major sport in the region

Last year's Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. Christopher Pike / The National
Last year's Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit. Christopher Pike / The National

In hindsight, it was fitting that the first front cover in the sport section of The National on April 17, 2008, was a story highlighting the plans for the inaugural Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November 2009 and the development of Yas Marina Circuit, the venue for the race.

Fast forward a decade and the grand prix remains one of the great success stories for the UAE.

It has seen plenty of drama in the first nice races, with Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg all winning championships in the country, and the race has sold out every year, with capacity now at 60,000.

The 5.5-kilometre circuit has become established as a world-class facility and has led the way in drawing eyes to the region and being part of sport’s role of highlighting the country’s development and relevance on the world stage.

The early months of The National’s existence saw another story unfold that remains as relevant now as it was then.

A deal by the Abu Dhabi United Group to purchase Manchester City was completed in September 2008.

Ten years on and City have a third Premier League title and have established themselves as one of the leading clubs in the European game.

Vincent Kompany, centre left, and other members of the Manchester City squad during a training session in Abu Dhabi in March. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Vincent Kompany, centre left, and other members of the Manchester City squad during a training session in Abu Dhabi in March. Chris Whiteoak / The National

City were in the nation’s capital last month for a warm-weather training session and club captain Vincent Kompany summed up the club’s transformation well.

The Belgian said: “It’s been incredible. It’s just witnessing evolution that’s been interesting.”

But it is not just been City’s success that has caught the attention for UAE football fans.

Both Barcelona (in 2009) and Real Madrid (in December) have won the Fifa Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the winning goals for their respective sides.

And it is not just football that has seen the world’s best shine on the UAE’s shores.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the big four in men’s tennis, have all won titles in the UAE during the past decade.

Meanwhile, the most successful women’s player in recent time, Serena Williams, chose Abu Dhabi in December at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship to make her first appearance on a tennis court after giving birth to her first child, creating headlines across the world in the process.

Rory McIlroy. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Rory McIlroy. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Rory McIlroy won his first career title in Dubai in 2009 as a 19-year-old, while Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and current world No 1 Dustin Johnson are among the golfing superstars to have also competed in the country in the past 10 years.

Pakistan have since 2009 used the UAE as their cricketing home because of security concerns at home.

Nearly every major cricketing nation has played in at least one form of the game in the country since then.

Even though India have not, the Indian Premier League in 2014 staged the first half of the tournament in the country as the Indian elections took place, leading to sold-out matches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

The Dubai World Cup continues to attract the cream of the crop in the horse-racing world and last month’s race saw Godolphin win the big race for a record seventh time through Thunder Snow.

The Dubai Rugby Sevens continues, every December, to be a festival of rugby for both international and domestic players and continues to be one of the best attended events on the UAE calendar.

But in a time of reflection of the past, it is hard not to be excited about the future for sport in the UAE with the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship taking place this month.

The two-week event has grown considerably, and now in its 10th year, the high participation levels of Emiratis give real hope it can be a sport in which the country can excel on the world stage for many years to come.

Unsurprisingly, the UAE sporting calendar shows no sign of slowing down.

With another Fifa Club World Cup in December, and football’s Asian Cup being played in the country for the first time since 1996 in January and February, there is already plenty to be excited about when looking ahead to the next 10 years for the country.

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Read more of our 10-year anniversary coverage here:

SPECIAL REPORT: Chronicling 10 years of change in the UAE

Books down: UAE education evolves outside classroom

Fashion forward

A decade of media experimentation

Technology has transformed every aspect of life in UAE

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