Sport in the United Arab Emirates

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Sport in the United Arab Emirates is widely practiced by the people of the UAE. Football is the most popular sport in the UAE. Among the notable UAE sports achievements is the 2002–03 AFC Champions League won by Al Ain FC who also finished second in the 2005 AFC Champions League. The UAE qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the first and only time so far in 1990, the fourth Middle-Eastern country to have qualified for the World Cup after first Egypt (qualified for Italy in 1934), then, Kuwait (qualified for Spain in 1982), and Iraq (qualified for Mexico again in 1986). Popular traditional sports include horse and camel racing.

Association football[edit]

Football is the most popular sport in the UAE. The United Arab Emirates Football Association was first established in 1971 and since then has dedicated its time and effort to promoting the game, organizing youth programs and improving the abilities of not only its players, but of the officials and coaches involved with its regional teams. The UAE national football team qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1990 with Egypt. It was the third consecutive World Cup with two Arab nations qualifying after Kuwait and Algeria in 1982 and Iraq and Algeria again in 1986.

The UAE national team won the 2005 Kirin Cup, sharing the cup with Peru after a 1–0 victory over the host country Japan.

The UAE team played a four-team friendly in Switzerland in July 2005, in which they beat both Qatar and Kuwait but lost 5–4 on penalties in the final against Egypt.

In 2003, the UAE was the host nation of the FIFA U-20 World Cup between November and December 2003.

In April 2005, Dubai Holding agreed to provide the national team with Dh20 million (US$5.45 million) sponsorship money over the next four years. The fund will also go towards developing the sport.

The UAE also recently won the Arabian Gulf Cup held in Riffa in January 2013.

The UAE are currently ranked 71st in the world according to the FIFA World Rankings.

Abu Dhabi United Group have recently purchased Manchester City Football Club.

The UAE U-16 national football team qualified for the 2009 Youth World Cup which was held in Nigeria. The UAE U-19 national football team was also qualified for the World Youth Cup finals to be held in Egypt the year after.


A cricket match between Australia and Pakistan in Dubai Sports City in 2009.

Cricket is the second most popular sport in the UAE, largely due to the expatriate population from Southern Asia. There are many cricket stadiums in the country, most popularly the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium, the Zayed Cricket Stadium, the Al Jazira Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, the Ajman Oval and the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Dubai is also home to the International Cricket Council, the principal governing body of the sport.[1]

The UAE national cricket team has qualified for several major tournaments in the past, including 2 world cups, in 1996 and most recently in 2015 (the most the country has featured in a world cup through any sport). The nation has itself hosted two major tournaments, the 2014 Under-19 Cricket World Cup and the 2021 Men's T20 World Cup, the latter being co-hosted with Oman.

Although the large percentage of the UAE team has included expatriates from other cricketing nations, the country has produced many prominent homegrown talents as well, with examples including the likes of Sultan Zarawani, and Mohammad Tauqir. With further initiatives being taken to increase the number of homegrown talents by the Emirates Cricket Board, it is likely that very soon cricket will surpass football in popularity.


Squash is very popular among players in the UAE. Lessons are available from ex-professionals and a Dubai Open Squash is even held with a $25,000 cash prize to the winner. Squash is most popular in the Middle East in Egypt still holding the number one category in players and in overall talent, but the UAE is an impressive place for people from all over the world to train and play the Squash (sport).[2]

Jiu Jitsu[edit]

The United Arab Emirates, in particular, Abu Dhabi, has become the global centre for (Brazilian) Jiu Jitsu, which consists of points and submissions over an opponent and has become a mainstream sport in the entire country. It is practiced in public schools for both boys, girls and those considered to have special needs, also known as people of determination. The number of pupils practicing this is in the tens of thousands and as a result, there are many world-class jiu-jitsu athletes that the UAE has homegrown and produced in a very short space of time.

The growth of this sport has been phenomenal and will only get better especially with a professional body that overlooks the sport.

Frequent competitions domestically and internationally have exposed the participants to world class standards and so the country is fast becoming one of the best in the world in this gentle art.

The federation which is responsible for this sport in the UAE.

The culmination of the international and domestic tournaments ends each season with the annual Abu Dhabi World Pro event open not only to the winners of regional tournaments across the world, but to all who wish to participate.


The Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships (part of the ATP World Tour 500 Series at the Aviation Club, Dubai) was bigger than ever in 2000 with no less than six of the top-seeded women's players taking centre court, a first time appearance by tennis’ golden boy, Andre Agassi, and the return of the celebrated Roger Federer, who was seeking his third title crown, resulting in some dramatic court action. In an unprecedented move, Dubai Duty Free, organisers of the championship, decided to switch the men's tournament to the first week of the competition so that it ran from February 21 to 27 and the women's was played from February 28 to March 5.

Table Tennis[edit]

Dubai is now the official sponsor of the Chinese table tennis team. The Chinese National Table Tennis Team gets on board to grow the game in the emirate. Ping Pong Dubai is a nonprofit community initiative aimed at encouraging people from all walks of life to pick up a bat and play table tennis.[3][4]


Interest in cycling in the UAE, specifically Dubai, has been on the increase. Today, there are many safe places to cycle in Dubai, including Nad Al Sheba Cycle Path, Al Qudra Cycle Path and Jumeirah Open Beach Track.[5] A new 30 km cycling lane in Dubai's desert with world-class facilities will help secure the future growth of the sport among the ever-increasing cycling community in the emirate. Since 1 October 2019 cyclist risk to get their cycle confiscated if they ride outside of the rare cycle lanes in the city. Not wearing protective gear can also lead to confiscation of your cycle. This sudden rule decreased drastically the cycling population in UAE [6]


The 2013 DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates delivered a US$44 million gross economic benefit to Dubai, according to independent research commissioned by tournament organisers, The European Tour. The game is experiencing a surge in popularity in the UAE with families coming to watch the games in big numbers.[7]

Dubai's Creek Golf & Yacht Club is home to the Middle East's first golf academy.


BWF's grassroots programme, Shuttle Time Dubai, aims to broaden badminton's appeal and raise its profile in the emirate by working with 40 schools on how to teach and engage youth in the sport. The ‘BWF Destination Dubai World Superseries Finals’ leg, which will take place annually for the next four years, will be the first time the international tournament has been hosted in the Middle East and enables the sport to connect with a whole new region of fans, explains BWF President Poul-Erik Høyer in his interview to Vision.[8][9]


The country hosted the 2014 Under-17 Basketball World Championship and is the first Asian country to ever do so. In terms of qualifications to major international events such as the Asian Championship, the UAE is a major force on the Arabian Peninsula.

Camel racing[edit]

Inhabitants of Arab States of the Persian Gulf have enjoyed camel racing for many years as it is considered a traditional sport.[10] Formalizing camel racing was one way of maintaining its central role in UAE life. In the past, UAE had a reputation for exploiting South Asians as jockeys. However, robot jockeys are now used after strict government regulations were passed prohibiting underage jockeys from racing.[11]

The UAE now has no fewer than 15 race tracks across the seven emirates. Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, 10 kilometers outside of Dubai, Al Wathba, 30 kilometers south-east of Abu Dhabi, and Al Ain track, which is 20 kilometers west of Al Ain, are all large, well-equipped camel tracks with high-tech facilities. Two smaller tracks are located in Sharjah, one in Ra's al-Khaimah and one in Umm al-Qaiwain. Others are spread throughout the desert areas.

In 2021, the UAE formed its first ever all-female camel racing team.[12]

The cloning industry has been receiving increased demands from customers wanting to reproduce better racing camels for competitions. Where a female camel typically reproduces only one calf in every two years, cloning industries have increased this number to an average of 10 to 20 babies every year. The only cloning facilities in the Gulf are situated in the United Arab Emirates. Animal rights groups have raised concerns regarding the process, which causes the animals providing egg cells and carrying embryos to undergo undue suffering.[13]

Ice hockey[edit]

Ice hockey is a minor sport in the UAE but growing in popularity.

In 2018, new president of the Emirates Ice Hockey League (EHL) Vladimir Burdun was appointed. His role was to strengthen UAE ice hockey team and attract more business opportunities.[14]

In 2019, Burdun announced the goal of entering a team in Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) which involved teams from Belarus, China, Finland, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Slovakia by 2021. He also aimed at getting more players ready for KHL. A new ice arena was expected to open in Abu Dhabi, possibly before the end of 2019, with a seating capacity of 17,000,[15] and that venue would meet all the requirements of the KHL.[16][14] The plan was to replicate the recent success of a NHL team situated in deserts, Vegas Golden Knights. KHL and former NHL players, such as Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Mozyakin, Alexander Ovechkin, were mentioned as prospects who might help to increase the future team's competitiveness.[17]


A satellite image of the Yas Marina Circuit.

The first motorsport race in the United Arab Emirates was the 1981 Dubai Grand Prix held at a purpose-built circuit in Deira Corniche, during the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Emirates.[18] It featured a sports car, touring car and celebrity races, as well as Formula One demonstrations, with drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Dan Gurney, John Surtees, Denny Hulme, Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, Stirling Moss, John Jackson and Carroll Shelby.

Since 1994 F1H2O was held in Abu Dhabi and since then many Grand Prix took place in Abu Dhabi (24 in total) with the last one held in 2018, 20 Grand Prix took place in Sharjah and only 1 in Dubai . Team Abudhabi won several F1H2O World Championship as well as many other major powerboating disciplines including Aquabike World Championship. Since 2018 the only Emirate that is currently hosting F1H2O World Championship is Sharjah that in 2019 celebrated 20 Years of consecutive racing and not hosting 2020 Grand Prix due to COVID-19 pandemic

Dubai hosts the Dubai International Rally, a point-scoring round of the Middle East Rally Championship, since 1984. Dubai driver Mohammed bin Sulayem is the most successful driver of the tournament, having won 14 championships and 60 races, and won the Dubai rally 15 times.

Khalid Al Tassim, also born in the US, won the 2004 Middle East Rally Championship and scored seventy wins in the series. From 2007 to 2011 he raced the World Rally Championship, in the Ford World Rally Team and later the Team Abu Dhabi. His best results were 5th at the 2011 Rally Australia and 6th at the 2009 Acropolis Rally, as well as a 12th championship finish in 2009 and 2010.

The UAE Desert Challenge, since 2009 called Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, is a rally raid race held since 1991. It is valid for the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup and the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship.

The Dubai Autodrome, opened in 2007, hosted international races in it first years of activity. Its main race is the Dubai 24 Hour endurance race, held since 2009

Abu Dhabi has hosted Formula One races there from the 2009 season onward. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is held at the 5.6 km Yas Marina Circuit, located on Yas Island and includes street and marina sections similar to Circuit de Monaco.

Rugby union sevens[edit]

The UAE hosts Dubai Sevens round of the IRB Sevens World Series. Previously this was held at Dubai Rugby Ground, but from 2008 onwards it has been held at the new stadium The Sevens on the Dubai-Al Ain road.


The UAE is well known for its falconry as it is also considered a traditional sport.[19] Many of UAE's rulers were enthusiasts in falconry as the nation imports falcons from all across the globe.

On November 20, 2001 and again in 2002, the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna imposed comprehensive wildlife trade sanctions (i.e. recommendations against trade) on the United Arab Emirates. Sanctions were instigated by industrial-scale falcon smuggling, financed and directed by the ruling sheikhs. Smuggling continues into 2009, to such an extent that saker falcons, altai gyrfalcons, and gyrfalcons have become regionally extinct across much of Central Asia. Golden eagles and houbara bustards (lesser McQueen's bustards) are also critically endangered in Central Asian regions where falconry is practiced.

Endurance riding[edit]

Endurance riding or racing is a traditional sport in the UAE. It involves long-distance races on horseback. UAE patriot Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is a premiere endurance rider.[20] The UAE claim to be the global leaders of the sport and are campaigning for it to be in the Olympic Games. At the top level, horses cover 160 km in a day. The UAE hold the record for the fastest 160 km race at the Presidents Cup. Recently a UAE rider won the young rider world championships. This sport is growing and the technology and science involved is always developing. The Dubai Endurance City is leading the sport in the country with many world class endurance yards competing regularly.[21][22]


The UAE weightlifting has seen female competition with likes of Amna Al Haddad who has won varies accolades, clad in headscarf in various competitions.


Sandboarding in the dunes of Dubai.

Other known sports include American football, which is not played in the UAE, but broadcast on TV and radio. The most common program in American football is the Super Bowl, an event that is broadcast nearly worldwide. Most hangouts and bars with HDTVs show footage of the Super Bowl throughout the country. The game usually premieres at 3:00 A.M. GST on a Monday, having an 8-hour forward difference from the Eastern Time Zone.

Sandboarding is also a common sport practiced by many residents and tourists alike.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cricinfo - Grounds - United Arab Emirates". 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2009-01-12.
  2. ^ Al Kiremli, Ahmed. "Squash In Dubai". Squash In Dubai. Retrieved 30 September 2021.
  3. ^ "Ping Pong Dubai:Growing craze - Vision Magazine". Archived from the original on 2014-10-23. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  4. ^ "Ping pong: the big bounce". Archived from the original on 2014-10-23. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  5. ^ Nada Al Taher, Staff Reporter and Farah Hamdy Special to Gulf News. "Cycling enthusiasts on the increase in Dubai". GulfNews.
  6. ^ "Pedalling uphill: the rise of cycling in Dubai". Archived from the original on 2014-12-19. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  7. ^ "Dubai Golf Championship - Teeing off: the changing face of golf - Vision Magazine". Archived from the original on 2014-10-23. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  8. ^ "Badminton in Dubai: a winning pair". Archived from the original on 2014-10-23. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  9. ^ "Badminton boom: World Superseries Finals". Archived from the original on 2014-12-29. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  10. ^ Dubai By Terry Carter, Lara Dunston, pg. 17
  11. ^ The United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2007 By Ibrahim Al Abed, Peter Vine
  12. ^ "How the UAE's first all-female camel racing team hopes to transform the sport". The National. Retrieved 2021-07-28.
  13. ^ "Clone your camel: beauty pageants, races spur high demand". France24. 12 September 2021. Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  14. ^ a b Sam Bridge (2018-11-23). "How one Russian expat aims to make the UAE an ice hockey force". Arabian Business. Retrieved 2019-02-26.
  15. ^ "New arena to be 'game changer' for Dubai". The Stadium Business. 2019-04-03. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  16. ^ "Hamad Al Qubaisi calls on investors to help build ice rink on Yas Island". The National.
  17. ^ Aivis Kalnins (2019-02-20). "Russian businessman talks KHL expansion to Dubai". HockeyBuzz. Retrieved 2019-02-26.
  18. ^ UAE's first 'grand prix' nearfaded into memory - The National
  19. ^ Folklore and Folklife in the United Arab Emirates by Sayyid Hamid Hurriez, Sayyid Hurreiz, pg 143
  20. ^ Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
  21. ^ "Shaikh Mohammed attends Dubai International Endurance City Ride". Retrieved 2015-05-26.
  22. ^ "» People: Trailblazer: Hussain Al Marzooqi". Archived from the original on 2016-08-18. Retrieved 2015-05-26.

External links[edit]

Media related to Sports in the United Arab Emirates at Wikimedia Commons