The annual UAE Open is one of the biggest and most prestigious badminton tournaments in the Gulf. With its milestone 40th edition once again taking place at Dubai’s India Club this year, Gruffudd Owen explores the history of the establishment and one of its showcase events
Any account of Dubai’s transformation from a small fishing village into the global metropolis that it is today will tell you of the vital role Indian migrants played in the Emirate’s rapid expansion.
With such a significant proportion of the city’s workforce hailing from the vast country that lies to the east across the Arabian Sea, over the decades Indians have not only brought with them their labour, but also their customs and pastimes – particularly in relation to sport.
One of the biggest celebrations of Indian sporting culture in Dubai is the UAE Open Badminton Tournament, held annually at the India Club in the Oud Metha locality.
Founded in 1964 on land given to Dubai’s Indian community by His Highness the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the India Club today boasts around 6,500 members, with its flagship badminton competition – now in its 40th year – being one of its most prestigious events.
“It started off as a club tournament when we arrived in the Emirate,” reveals Sunil Singh, a trustee and former chairman of the Club.
“In its present form, it now sees people from all over the world competing in it. It is open to everyone: around 10 to 15 different nationalities are represented at this year’s event.
“As Dubai has grown, so has the UAE Open. It’s one of the best badminton competitions in the Gulf.”
The nearby Indian High School also has close ties to the Club, and even predates it, having opened in 1961. Over 12,000 pupils pass through its doors, giving it access to a large pool of young and talented badminton players. This has seen the school win the Shuttle Time Schools Championships on a number of occasions.
In fact, the India Club has been keen to champion the Shuttle Time Dubai grassroots programme. While the UAE Open features eight categories in total catering for a broad range of age groups – players between the ages of 14 and 55 are eligible to compete in the tournament – its focus is very much on the young players. With this in mind, promoting the work of Shuttle Time Dubai is key to boosting participation in the competition and ensuring that it improves year on year.
“India Club shares a special relationship with Shuttle Time Dubai,” explains Girish Chand, member of the UAE Open’s organising committee.
“The programme has actively supported the UAE Open, giving it wide publicity and helping to ensure that the tournament is conducted in line with BWF standards, including scheduling, publishing, providing technical training to tournament officials and providing qualified technical officials for the main matches.
“Our tournament has been given a Gold Star rating, and the support of Shuttle Time will take us to even higher levels.”
Of course, the impact of the lucrative Dubai World Superseries Finals – which will be held at the city’s Hamdan Sports Complex for the fourth year running in December – has also been profound, enabling the Emirate’s young shuttlers to watch the sport’s biggest names in action. As Chand elaborates, this has done wonders to the sport’s appeal.
“The introduction of the Dubai World Superseries Finals has raised the interest of badminton in the region tremendously. Participation levels – especially among children – have increased a lot,” he says.
“The number of coaching classes available in the region have mushroomed, helping to raise the standard of the game.
“We are also seeing many players from Dubai going to India and doing well in competitive level badminton in the Indian leagues.”
Dubai’s badminton love affair shows no signs of ending anytime soon, which means there may come a time when the India Club – and the UAE Open – will need to start thinking about relocating to a bigger setting.
“Right now we have almost everything we need, but membership is in such demand,” Singh says.
“Of course, the members don’t all come at the same time: some come in the morning, some during the afternoon, some in the evenings – it’s quite spread out.
“But when we hold major functions such as the UAE Open and everyone comes to the club, it can be a tight squeeze.
“We are coping at the moment, but within the next five years we are hoping to expand.”
The 40th UAE Open Badminton Tournament runs until 19 May at the India Club, Dubai