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UAE: Sports Events

Given the stiffling summer heat in the Gulf region, most sports events take place between October and April. However, there have been attempts to stage indoor air-conditioned events, particularly the annual Dubai Sports World, which from June until August offers football, basketball, volleyball and tennis facilities to amateurs.

UAE event organisers are notoriously tightlipped when it comes to the finances of sport. In their Economic Impact of Sport in Dubai report, Deloitte estimated that the emirate’s top seven sports events created a gross expenditure of $407m. The second tier of events was responsible for $250m, while $52m came from local events.

Economic footprint

When these figures were analysed to calculate the direct economic impact – in other words, how much money from outside of Dubai was spent within Dubai thanks to these sports events – the total figure came to $359m. “Leading events make a discernible difference,” the report concluded, “both in terms of their economic footprint and their role in attracting overseas investment to the emirate.”

Many of the major events enjoy huge attendance figures. One of the most established is the Dubai Rugby Sevens, which started all the way back in 1970 with “a small group of British expats, just a few players and a handful of fans scattered along the touchline.” Last year it attracted 103,000 spectators and 280 teams over three days. The Dubai World Cup regularly draws in 80,000 spectators, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix about 60,000. There were over 100,000 at last year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and over 50,000 at the DP World Tour Championship. The Dubai Marathon attracts 25,000 runners.

What about the football? Among local Emiratis, the beautiful game is by far the most popular sport. However, it is through broadcast coverage of the UAE Arabian Gulf League that most fans are engaged. Originally established in 1973, the league does not have a strong tradition of attracting live spectators as in Europe or South America. In fact, of the 14 clubs in the current season’s league, most have very small stadia. “It’s a far smaller market than in Europe,” Faber said. “There’s a relatively low attendance and the vast majority of those attending are Arab nationals. It’s not so popular with expats.”


In general, most experts agree that UAE sports events are well organised and executed. Occasionally, there might be a problem in event management.

As Cunningham explained, that is often down to a lack of experience. “They might set up an event for 50,000 fans and only 5,000 turn up,” he said. “Or they might not place enough staff on the gates to manage the crowds.”

Sports management education will have a role to play in improving the region’s event hosting expertise. There are currently two universities in the UAE offering sports management courses: Dubai’s American University in the Emirates and New York University in Abu Dhabi.

Top-Tier Events

  • Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Formula 1)
  • Dubai Desert Classic (European Tour golf)
  • DP World Tour Championship (European Tour golf)
  • Abu Dhabi Golf Championship (European Tour golf)
  • Dubai World Cup (horse racing)
  • Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (ATP and WTA tennis)
  • Dubai Rugby Sevens
  • Dubai Marathon
  • Dubai Tour (cycling)
  • 2017 Fifa Club World Cup
  • 2019 AFC Asian Cup

Second-Tier Events

  • BWF Super Series Finals (badminton)
  • Beach Soccer Intercontinental Cup
  • XCAT World Series (powerboating)
  • Dubai International Triathlon
  • 2016 Fina High Diving World Cup
  • 2020 Fina World Swimming Championships (25m)

Home-grown Events

  • UAE Arabian Gulf League (football)
  • Camel racing


To continue reading the UAE Focus, please click the links below:

Still On Top Of The World?

UAE: Sports Media

UAE: Sponsorship and Marketing

UAE: Stadia and Facilities

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