This article was produced in association with Abu Dhabi Sports Council
HE Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council explains how the Emirate’s continuing investment in a world class sports infrastructure serves the local population and the international community
Why is sport important to Abu Dhabi?
Aref Al Awani: Sport is hugely important to our society, our culture and our economy. Abu Dhabi Sports Council’s role is to manage the sport ecosystem in terms of all sports clubs and federations, major international events and local community events.
The Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, FIFA Club World Cup UAE and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship - in addition to many others - have all played an important role to promote Abu Dhabi as a global capital for sport, whilst having a significant impact on our economy.
Whilst our international events help promote Abu Dhabi to a global audience, they also inspire the next generation of our community to play sport and lead a healthier life. They also develop our own athletes whose success will be important as role models in our society. We are immensely proud of our success, but are equally committed to continuing to build an even stronger sports economy with new facilities, new events and increased participation.
What role does sport play in Abu Dhabi’s medium and long term planning?
AA: When you consider the roles of both Zayed Sports City and Yas Marina Circuit within Abu Dhabi this gives an important reflection of sport and its impact on our society and economy.
Both venues host world class sporting events which rival the best anywhere else in the world. Their facilities and design have also played an important role in terms of both real estate development and community health within the economy. For example, over 5,000 people each week walk, cycle or run around Yas Marina Circuit via their TrainYas initiative. Similarly Zayed Sports City offers fantastic fitness and health facilities alongside their multi-sport offer. The same is true of Al Ain and the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium – and Abu Dhabi Cricket is now on the scene.
Another sport which I must highlight is cycling and in particular the Abu Dhabi Tour. This year saw the third edition of the Tour and its inclusion for the very first time on the UCI WorldTour calendar. This illustrates how Abu Dhabi is emerging as a destination for international cycling events. Local government is also increasing cycling routes in the Emirate and we at Abu Dhabi Sports Council are creating new events for our local communities to encourage participation and promote this great sport. The private sector has also supported and this has led to the creation of UAE Team Emirates on the UCI WorldTour and the development of Al Wathba Cycling Track.
How does Abu Dhabi add value to the sporting experience of professional teams, federations and athletes?
AA: Sport in Abu Dhabi has a world class offer for both professional teams and elite athletes who are looking for a winter training destination.
In recent years, we’ve hosted teams such as Manchester City, German legends Bayern Munich, England Cricket and over eight county championship teams for their training camps here. Leading sports clubs recognise Abu Dhabi’s facilities, weather, medical facilities and hospitality as attractive to the highest standard. We’ve also hosted elite athletes such as Mark Cavendish and Martin Kaymer – as well as many sporting federations and elite junior teams across many sports.
And amateur athletes?
AA: Abu Dhabi has something for everyone of all ages and abilities. For keen sports tourists, our cycling, equestrian, golf, jiu-jitsu, tennis and water sports are second to none. Our golf courses deserve special mention: Al Ain, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Saadiyat and Yas Links have all won awards for their facilities. For families with football mad kids, the Manchester City Academy offers unique holiday camps and we intend to develop similar programs for cricket at Abu Dhabi Cricket Club.
What about spectators?
AA: Spectators will find everything from football, cycling, golf, tennis, Formula 1 and triathlon all of which showcase the incredible and varied choice that we have on offer here and all of which are staged at fantastic venues with entertainment. For example, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is recognised as one of the biggest events on the European Tour and this year saw five of the top ten golfers in the world take part. During the championship, visitors had a fantastic spectator village with a wide range of sports, entertainment and F&B. At Abu Dhabi Sports Council, we always consider the spectator experience at our events.
What are Abu Dhabi’s ambitions as a major events host?
AA: In the short term we are excited and proud to host the FIFA Club World Cup UAE in 2017 and 2018 which we believe validates Abu Dhabi’s excellence in infrastructure, facilities, hospitality and entertainment. This is followed by AFC Asian Cup UAE and the Special Olympics World Games in 2019. I have no doubt that we will continue to bid for and win major sporting events in all sports.
So to summarise, what sets Abu Dhabi apart as a sports destination?
AA: Our facilities, our hospitality, our commitment to excellence and of course - our weather!