Football takes centre stage at 11th Dubai International Sports Conference

Good governance in sport and the global expansion of football were some of the hot topics at a star-studded 11th edition of the Dubai International Sports Conference, held at Madinat Jumeirah on 27-28 December. Sam Price reports

The UAE’s ever-increasing influence on global sport was reinforced over two days at the end of 2016, as Dubai welcomed an illustrious roll call of personalities from the world of football to discuss key issues surrounding the modern game.

Organised by Dubai Sports Council and entitled “Governance in Modern Football”, the 11th Dubai International Sports Conference was staged as part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, and included six panel discussions aimed at sharing knowledge and best practices to improve sports governance across the UAE and worldwide.

The two-day event has been welcoming some of the biggest names in football and other sports to Dubai for over a decade, and this edition was no exception, with EURO 2016-winning coach Fernando Santos and former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o – both of whom were honoured at the prestigious Globe Soccer Awards Ceremony staged alongside the conference – joined by FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

“We have to be more inclusive,” said Infantino as he described to the audience his ambitious vision to expand the FIFA World Cup to a 48-team tournament – plans he said football federations were “overwhelmingly in favour of”. Infantino also expressed confidence that video assistant refereeing technology, a topic discussed a day earlier by a panel that included UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina and leading match official Mark Clattenburg, would be introduced in time for the 2018 FIFA World Cup following a successful trial.

UAE Football Association President Marwan Bin Ghalita was also in attendance and outlined plans to boost football in the region by engaging different nationalities within the local population, and by exporting Emirati talent overseas. He pointed to the example of Emirati coach Abdullah Misfer, currently in charge of the Jordanian national team, but added “it’s now our ambition to send our own players abroad too”, as the UAE looks forward to hosting the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

The UAE is already established as a premier sports destination, but thanks to the success of the Dubai International Sports Conference, it continues to cement its position as an innovator and influencer on the global sporting landscape.