The heritage of venues in the UAE

Reem Abulleil explores how state-of-the-art facilities such as the multi-purpose Hamdan Sports Complex have helped the UAE successfully position itself as one of the premier host countries in the world for major sporting events

Build it and they will come – a strategy that has worked perfectly for the UAE over the past three decades particularly in the sporting arena.

When the Emirates Golf Club (EGC) opened its doors back in 1988, it was the first all grass championship golf course in the Middle East. One year later, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic came to life marking the first time the European Tour paid a visit to the region, finding a home in the northern Emirate.

The tournament has been bringing the world’s best golfers to the pristine Majlis course of EGC annually ever since – except for in 1999 and 2000 when it was held at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club – and the sport of golf has gone on to take a life of its own in the UAE.

The country now plays host to three tournaments on golf’s European Tour as well as the Ladies Masters each year. With the rise in the number of quality golf courses in the UAE, staging so many world-class events was a natural progression.

The same pattern was witnessed in other sports as the FIFA Club World Cup found a home in Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City and Mohammed bin Zayed Stadiums in 2009 and 2010 and will return to the capital in 2017 and 2018.

Emirates Golf Club
The Dubai Desert Classic, a European Tour event with a US$2.5 million purse is an annual event of the Emirates Golf Club

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships debuted at the Aviation Club in 1993 before a stadium was erected there, hosting the men’s ATP event from 1996 onwards. A women’s WTA tournament followed in 2001. The 5,000-seat stadium is an incredible facility, with every seat in the house enjoying a perfect view of the tennis court. With the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel added to the grounds three years ago, the entire venue is every player’s dream come true, which explains why the Dubai ATP tournament has been voted as the best 500-level event by the players 11 times in the last 12 years.

“Everything you see and feel and touch is just incredible and it’s different to any other place in the world. It is quite special I must admit. There is life to this tournament, there is a soul and I think the players appreciate that,” said Roger Federer of the Dubai event, which he has won a record seven times.

If there is one sport that has dramatically evolved in the UAE due to the construction of a state-of-the-art venue, then it would have to be swimming.

In 2006, when the country won the right to host the 2010 World Short Course Swimming Championships, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, immediately ordered for the construction of a facility that would stage the competition. It was an ambitious Dh1.1billion project that became one of the most impressive and immaculate multi-sport arenas in the world.

Bearing the name of Sheikh Mohammed’s son – Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – the Hamdan Sports Complex (HSC) was an immediate hit with the swimmers who left the 2010 FINA World Short Course Championships in awe, not just of the facility but Dubai as a whole.

The venue, built over 61 acres of land, has an Olympic standard 50-metre pool along with another 50-metre pool with a moveable floor, and is designed with the option to transform it into a 25-metre pool. It can host 10 different Olympic sports.

Since 2010, a slew of competitions have been staged there including the 2012 Asian Swimming Championships, the 2013 World Junior Swimming Championships, the annual FINA Swimming World Cup and FINA Diving World Series.

There is life to this tournament, there is a soul and I think the players appreciate that

Roger Federer, On the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Some of the best swimmers and teams in the world now come to Dubai to train at the venue. The HSC single-handedly put the UAE on the global swimming map and the country’s relationship with FINA – the world governing body of the sport – continues to thrive.

Last year, the FIBA U-17 World Basketball Championships were held at the HSC, as well as the BWF (Badminton World Federation) World Superseries finals, and the fourth leg of the inaugural International Premier Tennis League, which brought the legendary Pete Sampras to the UAE for the very first time.

A study commissioned by the UAE Swimming Federation estimated the value of media coverage of events staged at the HSC in 2014 to be over Dh8million.

“The Hamdan Sports Complex pool has revolutionised the entire culture of sport in the UAE,” says federation president Ahmed Al Falasi.

“From the annual Swimming World Cups, to the Diving World Series, to all the other sports events that hosted there, it changed the mentality of all the sports federations in the country. Now we have major badminton, tennis, basketball and volleyball tournaments all taking place at the Hamdan Sports Complex.

“And it’s just the beginning. There is a lot more we can do with this facility.”