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posted on 11/08/2001: 2146 views

Sports, like any other sector, have witnessed rapid and comprehensive development since the establishment of the UAE federation in 1971. The UAE leadership, headed by President H.H Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, has given special attention to youth development. This stems from their deep belief that the future of the country lies in the hands of the country's youth. Since Sports form one of the basic principles of building the youth, the country's leadership has been throwing their weight behind every effort to improve this sector by providing the best of every needed facility.

The efforts of the UAE leadership began to bear fruit since the late eighties when the country began to win international laurels in various sport events. This has won the UAE great respect and placed the country at an enviable spot on the world map. As part of its concerted efforts to guide the UAE youth for achievements in sports, the UAE leadership provided both moral and material support by improving the standards of sports facilities in the country.

As a result, the country now has thirty officially registered sports clubs each of whom can boast of high Standard sports facilities for football, basketball, handball, table tennis, volleyball, swimming, athletics, chess and snooker. Owing to the enviable position of football among the various sports, well-equipped Stadiums have been built for all the clubs, now totalling 30 from eight in 1970. These, in addition to a number of girls clubs in various parts of the country, six chess clubs and boys scout and girls guides societies in each of the seven emirates.

The Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi, built in 1979, is a showpiece of the country's sport facilities. The sports complex is capable of hosting any world sport event in the country. As a result of the UAE leadership's pragmatic approach to sports development, the country recorded its first international sports laurel in 1998 when Mohammed Al Qubeisi won the Bowling World Cup Championship in Mexico. With bowling fast becoming popular among the country's youth since the Al Qubeisi's achievement, a state-of-the-art Khalifa International Bowling Centre was built in Abu Dhabi.

The centre successfully hosted the 1999 Bowling World Cup Championship in November 1999. In football, the country's greatest feat was its qualification to the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy, where the UAE senior national team gallantly locked horns with football giants, including Germany and Yugoslavia.

Football remains the most popular sport in the UAE. With the recent appointment of Sheikh Saeed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a keen football enthusiast, as the new Chairman of the UAE Football Association, the sport is on course for a big boost. The UAE senior national team is currently busy preparing, under Abdullah Saqr, a UAE national coach, for the second round of the qualifying matches for the Japan/Korea 2002 World cup finals. Sheikh Saeed's first major achievement in his new office is the securing for the country the honour to host the 2003 FIFA Youth World Cup. The promotion of the sport through football clubs at schools and colleges, as well as at local, regional and national levels, has paid dividends in terms of raising the standard of the game in the country.

A total 30 football clubs, each with around 150 players, are currently affiliated with the UAE Football Association, which was established in 1971. The UAE FA joined FIFA in 1972, followed by both the Arab Football and Asian Soccer Federations in 1974. Ali Bujsim, the pride of the UAE football referees and sports in general, is a clear testimony of the UAE sports maturity. After his wonderful performance in the 1994 and 1998 world cup finals in the USA and France respectively, Bujsim has now become the symbol of good football refereeing at the local, Arab and international football circles. Schools and other academic institutions are being given greater attention as far as sports of various kinds are concern. This stems from the country's belief that sports development in the country must be handled from the grassroots.

Another area where the UAE has made a remarkable achievement is camel racing, horse racing and boat racing. All being ancestral sports, which the UAE government is making concerted efforts to revive and sustain. In 1985 the UAE joined the Federation Equestre International (FEI) and the UAE Equestrian and Racing Federation was formed in 1992 with the clear mission to promote and sponsor equestrian sport in the UAE.

Since the federation's inception, equestrian sport has become focused and highly successful. Racing has already taken its place on the world stage and showjumping and endurance riding are now following its lead. Other equestrian associations, such as the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, under the chairmanship of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also organise equestrian events within the UAE. Professional racing, now actively in practice in the UAE, did not begin until the 1991/1992 season. Both thoroughbreds and purebred Arabian horses are raced.

During the 1990s the sport enjoyed phenomenal growth throughout the UAE, and the country now boasts of a number of prestigious racing venues and hosts the world's richest horse race, the Dubai World Cup. The event has been awarded the sport's coveted Group 1 status, which places the race on a level with the Derby, Oaks and Arc de Triomphe classics. High-class facilities have been made available in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, where high standard horse racing can be watched every season, which starts from November and ends in May.

The annual Dubai World Cup race, which is now the richest in the world, is held in February. This year's race had a total cash prize of sixteen million US Dollars at stake. Other prestigious events in the UAE racing calendar for 2000/2001 are the UAE 1000 Guineas (15 March), the UAE 2000 Guineas (1 March) and the UAE Oaks (14 April). Great efforts are also being made by the UAE Racing and Equestrian Federation, under the chairmanship of Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan and with the support of His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai and His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to promote international racing featuring purebred Arabian horses.

The series of international events featuring purebreds organised by the federation included the Abu Dhabi Championship at Duindigt Race Course in Wassenaar, Netherlands, the Sheikh Zayed Championship at Wellington track, Ostend, Belgium, the Al Nahyan International Championship at Newmarket, United Kingdom, races in Evry, Toulouse and Craon, the French Derby at Chantilly, France, the German Derby at Baden-Baden and races in the Middle East including Jordan, Egypt and Morocco. At the international level, horses owned by UAE Sheikhs and nationals have won several international races in Briton, France and the USA.

The Godolphin stable of Dubai is now dominating in international horse racing in Europe and the U.S. In boat racing, various kinds of boat races are being held locally and abroad. These include wooden boat races. Regatta, yacht races, sailboat races, water-bike races and speedboat races, In the latter, the achievements of the Dubai-based Victory Team and the Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club at the international level are a source of pride. The UAE has successfully hosted International speedboat races in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and of late in Fujairah. Water Skiing is where the UAE is beginning to flex its muscles, at least, at the regional and Asian levels.

On October 29, 1999, the UAE lads ended the two-year monopoly of the sport by the South Koreans, when the 13th Asian Championship, which was held in Ras Al Khaimah, was won by the UAE.

Camel racing, a traditional sport, is extremely popular in the Emirates. Originally staged in an informal setting, at weddings or special festivals, camel racing now takes place on customised tracks that have been built throughout the country. Race meetings are held in the winter months from October to April, and crowned with the annual camel race festival at Al Wathba which attracts entrants from all over the world. Sheikh Zayed's sponsorship of the Zayed Grand Prize is an indication of the special focus and encouragement given to the revival of heritage sports and camel racing festivals as an occasion for the gathering of UAE citizens. A total cash prizes of Dh10 million are put at stake for winners of the 112 individual races held during the festival. The necessity to formulate rules and regulations for the sport has required the establishment of the Camel Racing Federation. Under the chairmanship of Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, the federation is now responsible for guiding and controlling camel racing events in the Emirates and promoting its popularity abroad.

The UAE also supports camel racing in other countries, including Mauritania, Australia and Germany, where cups and cash prizes in Sheikh Zayed's name are put at stake. In car rally, Mohammed bin Sulayem, has made his mark at the local, regional and the Middle East levels and is making his impact felt at the international level. He still remains the fastest Arab on wheel and this has won him many accolades locally and internationally. His achievements have boosted the sport locally and regionally, making the UAE a centre of attraction for the sport.

Polo has been played in the UAE since the Dubai Polo Club was established 24 years ago. In recent years it has become so popular, especially amongst local players, that the Emirates Polo Association was formed to organise the game on a more professional basis. The UAE is now on the international polo circuit, a remarkable achievement in so short a time. One major advantage is that it enjoys an eight-month polo season, as compared to an average five-month season elsewhere in the world. Sponsorship is important to the development of the sport, as is the resolve to encourage young players. The plush Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club, situated on the borders of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, hosted one of the biggest polo tournaments in the region in January 2000.

The Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Polo Championship featured three of the world's top polo players, the famous Heguy brothers. Many other national and international polo matches are staged in the UAE, including the Tridex Cup and Dubai Challenge Trophy. Ghantoot teams have also participated successfully in polo matches abroad, including winning three Sotogrande cups in August 2000. Less than three decades ago golfers were restricted to playing on oiled sand, putting on "browns" rather than greens.

Today, proponents of the fastest growing sport in the UAE can choose from eleven world-class golf courses throughout the country, with distinctive clubhouses, immaculate greens and lush fairways. Some of the courses are of such a high standard that they have been chosen to host major international golfing tournaments.

The UAE junior cycling team made a great performance at the seventh Asian Cycling Championship in Shanghai, China in July 2000. Mattar Obaid finished seventh, while his team-mate Hisham Mohammed was one place behind him in the 21-kilometre Individual Time Trial. The four-member UAE junior side, which included Obaid, Mohammed, Hamad Rasool and Mubarak Abdulla, also fared well in the 120-kilometre Individual Road Race to finish third overall.

Meanwhile, the UAE men's team led by Ali Darwish had mixed fortunes in both the races. Shooting is another sports area where the UAE is gaining ground. Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed bin Hasher Al Maktoum finished an extremely close second in the Italian International Grand Prix, which hosted over 140 shooters representing eight nations. The 100-target competition, ending in a tiebreaker, was co-sponsored by Italian gun manufacturers, Beretta and Perazzi. Sheikh Ahmed was presented with a gun from Beretta for the overall tournament high score, as well as an additional gun for the highest shooter using a Beretta shotgun.

Sheikh Ahmed also competed in the Sydney 2000 Olympics in the Olympic Trap event and in the Double Trap event and won a medal at the World Cup in Cyprus in October 2000. Rugby is another sport that has a large following among the expatriate population.

In 2000, for the first time in its 30-year history, the Emirates-sponsored Dubai Rugby 7s saw players from the Arabian Gulf compete with the best rugby talent from six continents at the World Sevens Series in Dubai from 22 to 24 November. This is a major boost to rugby in the region, which is working hard to secure a foothold on the global scene. Basketball, netball, power lifting, wrestling, squash, handball and softball all have an enthusiastic following. Other sports areas where the UAE is making its marks are lawn tennis, chess, snooker and cricket.

A number of local and international championships are held in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, where international standard facilities in such sports have been made available. Notable among them are the annual Dubai Desert Classic golf championship, which offers a total prize of five million US Dollars and the ATP sanctioned Dubai Open tennis championship, which attracted some of the world's leading tennis players. Most surprisingly for a desert state, ice hockey and figure skating are popular sports.

With the personal participation and support of Sheikh Falah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Honorary Chairman of the UAE Ice Hockey Association, the UAE national team recently won the 2001 Asian Championship after achieving remarkable results in other championships. OLYMPIC GAMES The UAE was represented by four athletes participating in three events at the Olympic Games in Sydney: Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum (skeet shooting), Sheikh Ahmed bin Hasher Al Maktoum (trap shooting), Ali Khamis Al Niyady (200 metres sprint), and Ayoob Salim Al Mass (50 metre freestyle swimming). Ahmed Abdullah Bu Hussain, the UAE National Olympic Committee was head of the 14-member UAE delegation to Sydney for the UAE's fifth participation in the games. (The Emirates News Agency, WAM)


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