Yas Island & Hudayriat Island

Competitive people make a competitive nation, and the UAE is banking on sports to develop citizens capable of driving its economy, while major events garner international prestige.

“Excellence,” in the words of basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, “is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you do repeatedly.” These words chime perfectly with the UAE’s vision of its global status in the 21st century. Moreover, national prowess has translated from the economic to the sporting arena, while socially the race is on to bury a sedentary reputation and foster a healthy and competitive population.

From Classroom…

Palms Sports PJSC is a listed firm championing public enjoyment of sport. CEO Fouad Darwish explains how the UAE-based firm, in lockstep with the national vision of a healthily competitive citizenry, promote niche sports, notably jiujitsu and martial arts. “Links between physical activity, nutrition, and academic performance,” he tells TBY, “are well established, with sports offering the additional benefit of developing character and values within both team and individual scenarios.” Annually, the company’s programs engage 140,000 Emiratis and UAE residents, notable among whom are over 35,000 girls opting for jiujitsu at school. Encouragingly, last year’s ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon saw over 20,000 participants. Secretary General of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council Aref Al Awani told TBY that the Council, together with the Emirates Schools Establishment and Palms Sports, has launched the Active Hub program that offers 13 sports free, having already attracted 18,000 active monthly members. And at the professional end of the equation, the council is covering all the bases with its sports programming. Aside from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf tournament, staged since 2006, the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has featured since 2009. And meanwhile, cycling fans welcomed last year’s addition of the UAE Cycling Tour.

….to Boardroom

In an interview, former Manchester United and French national footballer Patrice Evra punted the ball into the business arena. To his thinking, “the UAE is 10 years ahead of the game, [with Abu Dhabi being] a capital of business [that views] a partnership as a relationship, so it is a win-win.” And naturally, the major international sporting events staged in the Emirate do wonders for the meetings, activities, and special events (MICE) sector. With reference to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Saif Al Noaimi, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, confirms that over that weekend alone, “the business champions of the world are in Abu Dhabi to conduct business and come for meetings.”

Yas, We Can

There are two prominent addresses for sport in the Emirate, both islands unto themselves. We start on Yas Island, which, over a total land area of 25sqkm, is a megaproject dedicated to sport and leisure. Regional history was made when Yas Island hosted the NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022, the league’s pioneering games in the Arabian Gulf and Europe. Elsewhere, the 18-hole Links Abu Dhabi enables the Emirate to play host to the HSBC Golf Championship every year. The 2023 DP World Tour’s Rolex Series events, with a winnings pot of USD9 million, represents the second of four events that highlight the UAE’s sporting drive.
And then, of course, there is Formula 1 at Yas Marina Circuit. “We recently concluded our 14th edition of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and it was a record year for us in terms of attendance,” Saif Al Noaimi, CEO of Yas Marina Circuit, explains. North of 150,000 visitors attended the Grand Prix weekend, and “more interestingly, we had over 60% of attendees coming from beyond the UAE.” In the wider scheme of things, “year on year, in terms of international visits, people are coming to the Grand Prix not only for the race, but also to experience everything else that Abu Dhabi and Yas Island has to offer.”

Slam Dunk

The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Department of Culture and Tourism-Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) have inked a multi-year deal to host the first-ever NBA games in the UAE. In a major coup, the UAE capital is the Official Tourism Destination Partner of the NBA in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and China. Yas Island’s Etihad Arena is poised to stage the NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2023. It is worth dwelling a moment on Etihad Arena, which, gracing Yas Bay, is the Middle East’s largest indoor multi-purpose entertainment venue. Aside from major artists’ concerts, the venue showcases key events of the international sporting calendar with a capacity of 18,000 people.

Sun, Sport & Sweat

Once home to pearl divers, many on today’s Hudayriat Island are looking instead to win gold. Since May 2018, locals and visitors have crossed a bridge to the family-friendly island to enjoy its 600-m beach. Keeping our focus on the sporting side, the island’s Marsana at Hudayriat Island marina appeals to the yachting fraternity. Runners make use of pristine, shaded tracks, while cycling tracks run along every road. The island also sees more competitive events such as triathlons. The OCR Park offers people a chance to test their mettle on obstacle courses. Billed as an outdoor adventure hub, Circuit X features a BMX Park, a splash park, a high ropes park, and a skate park for those of a riskier disposition. Meanwhile, the 321 Sports village boasts pitches, running tracks, fitness, and both indoor and outdoor basketball and tennis courts.

Bouncing off the Walls

One sport gaining massive global traction of late and believed to have been invented in Mexico is padel. It has in fact become the fastest-growing sport in the UAE, so much so that the Abu Dhabi Padel Master Opening Tournament 2023, a first for the Middle East, featured a prize of EUR450,000 fought over by 128 of the world’s foremost players. And with a five-year deal in place, balls will continue to ricochet off the walls. Harking back to the connection between sport and business, the event is fronted by Global MICE Organisation Limited (GMOL Events), underlining the Emirate’s ideal location for commercial events. Bear in mind that the Master 2023 tournament was broadcast live in over 130 countries. The ball is definitely in Abu Dhabi’s court.