Dubai - The Sporting Capital of the Middle East

The country is renowned for mixing traditional practices such as falconry with blockbuster events...


Sport is hugely fostered and widely practised across the UAE. A thriving economy enables the country to showcase a diverse spectrum of events, attracting tens of thousands of spectators and enthusiasts annually. The country is renowned for mixing traditional practices such as falconry with blockbuster events like the World Cup of Horse Racing. But sports aren’t only limited to Dubai. Abu Dhabi, for instance, is home to an abundance of widely recognised events for spectators from around the world to awe in entertainment. The Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix, now in its fifth year, is one of the most popular events. Hosted at the Yas Marina Circuit located on Yas Island, the venue alone reaches far beyond the glamour of motorsport.

 Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix

Another prestigious event is the daredevil Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge - a five-day rally held every April across the capital, opening rounds of both the FIA and the FIM Cross Country Rally World Cups. Ambitious athletes gather on motorbikes, quad bikes and in trucks to battle through the emirate’s majestic desert areas. It’s an ideal opportunity, in exotic surroundings, for tourists and sports enthusiasts to follow a major event in the sporting calendar.

In recent years, Dubai has emerged as the sporting capital of the Middle East; a titled coined for having hosted and produced some of the most gripping tournaments known to sports buffs around the world. This alluring destination hosts a range of events all year round, and is home to some of the best-equipped grounds in the world. The most extravagant event is the Dubai World Cup, a multi-million dollar horse race held at the end of each racing season at Meydan Racecourse, welcoming the world's top equestrian talent. It is now one of the main pillars of the Dubai sporting calendar and boasts the world’s highest prize money for horse racing,

Dubai World Cup (Photo credits: jaguarcarsmena, Flickr)

Every January, the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon takes place. Having recently celebrated its thirteenth year, the marathon has become the richest long distance running race in the world. With a quarter of a million dollar cash prize and one million dollars offered for a world record, male and female enthusiasts gather from across the globe to compete in this prestigious race. This event provides entertainment for both participants and spectators, with live bands and DJs performing at the Marathon Village in Burj Park throughout the day.

Perhaps Dubai’s most notable event is the PGA European Tour’s season ending event, the DP World Championship. Comprised of three leading professional tournaments, each year the competitive European Tour concludes with The Race to Dubai. Held in November, typically at the Jumeirah Golf Estates, top players compete to win the million dollar bonus cash prize and receive a five-year European Tour exemption. This event is not to be confused with the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which is a scheduled event on the European Tour. This is played at the Emirates Golf Club during the first quarter of each year, and draws big stars from the golfing world due to generous appearance fees and prize money.

Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Dubai is also home to some of the most uniquely developed sporting sites in the world. Dubai Sports City is a development set on 50 million square feet, visualized as a city within a city. The space consists of advanced sporting stadiums and facilities, surrounded by residential and commercial developments. Already completed within the building project is the 25,000 seat International Cricket Stadium and an 18-hole championship golf course named The Els Club - designed by none other than Ernie Els himself. Another prominent sporting address is The Aviation Club Tennis Centre; an open air complex which hosts the annual Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships that take place in February. This event draws top ATP players from around the globe and has become a celebrated contest in Dubai’s sporting scene. The Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex is home to national swimming and volleyball championships and is the largest aquatic sports centre in the world. Its area covers 24 hectares; accommodating three Olympic size swimming pools and 11 dry sports pitches with seating for 15,000 spectators. The super stadium has been designed aesthetically to connect Arabic culture with modern development, making the city a likely candidate for the 2024 Olympic bid.

Despite the economic growth and ensuing prevalence of international sports in Dubai, traditional sports are still revered. Camel racing has always been popular in the Arabian Gulf states as a time-honoured activity. However, nowadays robot jockeys are used to compete for the spoils. These races take place in a few tracks dotted around the UAE which attract local and international enthusiasts. Falconry is also an integral part of UAE life and considered another traditional sport. It is supported heavily by the UAE government which breeds and imports falcons from around the world to compete and hunt. This sport goes back centuries when desert-dwelling Arabs relied on falcons for their livelihood. Its popularity has withered away in modern times, but falconry remains an integral part of local heritage and is carefully preserved and celebrated by Emiratis.

Temperatures in Dubai soar in the summer months. Fortunately, Dubai Sports World hosts indoor activities during the season to avoid the heat. The arena, located at the World Trade & Exhibition Centre in the heart of Dubai, packs popular sports into one world-class facility over two months: the Dubai Chamber Indoor Basketball Tournament, the Summer Touch Rugby Tournament and the Ramadan Skate & BMX Competition are all held here. Courts and pitches are available to rent, allowing everyone to play with friends and colleagues.

Of course, no claim of being a sporting capital suffices without mentioning the hugely admired Rugby Sevens competition, the Kartdrome Endurance Championship or the Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge which take place each year to the great pleasure of throngs of enthusiastic followers, both locally and from abroad. These events usually draw fun-loving adrenaline junkies over entertainment-packed weekends where nothing but good weather and upbeat moods prevail to create memorable experiences. If you haven’t checked out any of these, or participated in the cycling event particularly, then you’re well-advised to consider doing so starting this year. Above all else, there’s plenty of family fun to be had. If these aren’t enough to satisfy your appetite for sports or provide convincing evidence that Dubai plays a leading role in promoting sports in the region, then consider the fact that this year’s FIFA Under 17 Football World Cup will be held in the UAE, with at least six of the 52 scheduled matches set to play in Dubai. This tournament is played every two years in a different host nation and draws worldwide attention for having produced football superstars such as Figo, Del Piero and Ronaldinho to name a few. It promises to be a tremendous event when it launches in November this year, and will definitely cement the UAE’s claim to being the go-to destination in the Middle East for athletes and spectators to enjoy a good dose of adrenaline-pumping sport.

Since these mainstay events have become a prominent recurrence in the UAE, they’ve contributed to Dubai’s rise as a hub for world class athletes to participate in an ever-growing magnate that’s blessed with fair weather seven months out of the year. With so much sport to get involved with in Dubai, keep up to date with My Destination for a full list of not to be missed calendar events.

Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (Photo credits: Aamir Shah