Dubai and China in a sporting league of their own

His Excellency Saeed Hareb, Secretary General of Dubai Sports Council, explains how Dubai has transformed itself into a world-beating destination for sports

How much of a journey has Dubai's sport scene been on in the last 10 years?

Dubai has a rich sporting tradition, with sport playing an intrinsic role in the emirate’s social and cultural identity. The Emirates Airline Rugby Sevens tournament has taken place since 1970 – just one year before the UAE was established in 1971 and the origins of falconry, horse racing, traditional dhow racing and camel racing date back even further.

We have built on this tradition in the last 10 years, building new state-of-the-art venues – such as the Hamdan Sports Complex, completed in 2010 – and are currently constructing the state-of-the-art Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid football stadium. The emirate has also worked to secure many prestigious sporting events, such as the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour Grand Finals. This has been accompanied by a drive to increase participation in sports such as badminton, padel, table tennis and athletics, which are now incredibly popular across Dubai. 

We also continue to forge ties with local and international sponsors, broadcasters and the athletes themselves to develop the city's sport offering.

How much of a bearing does sport have on a city's tourism numbers, and do you anticipate sport will add a significant contribution to Dubai’s 20-million-tourists-by-2020 target?

Dubai has worked strategically for many years to invest in its resources and capabilities across the sports sector. It hosts many major sporting events including the DP World Tour Championship Dubai, the Dubai World Cup, and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

It is estimated that over one million people watch sport events in Dubai each year – with the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens alone attracting over 100,000 attendees over three days of competition – significant numbers of which are thought to be international visitors. The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships attract around 20,000 international visitors each year.

In addition, Dubai has positioned itself as one of the leading destinations for golf tourists. It is estimated that 16,000 international visitors played 40,000 rounds of golf in 2013, and there are significant opportunities to increase this. Dubai’s favourable climate makes it the ideal destination for training camps. Rory McIlroy is resident in Dubai, and in preparation for the start of the 2015 season, golfers such as Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson all based themselves here, at the first European Tour Performance Institute (ETPI) in the Middle East.

The television and media coverage that goes with sporting events provides an opportunity for Dubai to showcase itself as a leading destination for tourism.

Do you believe the sporting partnership Dubai and China has forged over the past five years has been successful?

Absolutely. Dubai is always striving to host the biggest events in the world, and the world is not only in Europe – the world is also in Asia. When you consider table tennis and badminton, China boasts some of the world’s best players. But the links Dubai has with China are about economics too, and our mission in sport is to also consider that. During the ‘Sport Night’ here at Dubai Week in China, we are all getting together to talk about how we can help each other and forge even stronger ties between Dubai and China.

As after all, there are already tremendous synergies between China and Dubai. The city has in the past played host to the 2013 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, the 2014 ITTF World Team Cup and the 2016 Nakheel Asian Cup. Like China, Dubai always seeks to host the biggest events – and don’t forget that in 2008 China hosted the biggest sports event in the world, the Olympic Games, and, of course, Beijing will host the Winter Olympic Games in 2022.

If you have to look to the next five years, what are the most exciting sport projects taking place in the emirate?

Dubai is increasingly being recognised as the international home to racquet sport events and in addition to building upon established tournaments such as badminton’s BWF Dubai World Superseries Finals and Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, it will host squash’s PSA World Series finals in 2017 and 2018.

In November Dubai will welcome 300 hockey delegates from 80 countries to the 45th FIH congress, creating an exciting opportunity to attract another global sport to the region.

In 2019 the emirate will host football’s largest and one of the most prestigious Asian tournaments, the AFC Asian Cup, and it will continue to build upon its reputation as an international golf destination as host of the DP World Tour Championship 2016 and the Dubai Ladies Masters.