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Is the Middle East moving into pole position as a new global sporting hub?


As Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the ultimate Method One Grand Prix race of the season at a frenetic and fever-pitched Yas Marina Circuit final weekend, there was a palpable, collective sense of being current at a second of sporting historical past.
The thrilling climax of the 2021 F1 World Championship offered a considerably contentious spectacle, and but a second undoubtedly for the ages. From the lots of staff personnel and occasion workers to the hundreds of spectators current, together with loads of jubilant Dutch followers (or ought to I say Verstappen’s Orange Military), each particular person gathered across the 5.28 kilometer, redeveloped circuit now has a exceptional story to inform about how they had been there as “The Decider within the Desert” performed out.
A primary world title for Verstappen signaled the tip of a fairly gorgeous week in Abu Dhabi, every week when Yas Island lived as much as its “Yas Vegas” nickname. It exploded into life as a capability crowd descended on the island from all over the world and was greeted with stay music and all kinds of leisure from a few of the world’s most famed artists. All of this in opposition to the backdrop of an exciting finale to one of the extraordinary F1 seasons.
Within the UK, the UAE is broadly perceived as a preferred vacation vacation spot, identified for its massive expat inhabitants and, certainly, as a playground for the wealthy. It could have a long-standing fame for luxurious and a heat local weather, however now the nation can be firmly establishing its standing as a world sporting hub.
Final month, Abu Dhabi was named the Center East’s Main Sports activities Tourism Vacation spot of 2021 on the twenty eighth Annual World Journey Awards. Primarily based on my experiences over the previous few months, this got here as no shock by any means.
I flew to the UAE in October, initially to cowl the ICC Males’s T20 World Cup, and commonly traveled with fellow media professionals from England up and down Sheikh Zayed Highway between Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. 4 weeks and 45 matches involving the foremost cricketing nations of the world. Good gig. Good expertise. However that was simply the starter on my sporting menu.
A number of days after Australia gained that event, Season 5 of the Abu Dhabi T10 started, that includes a few of the large names in world cricket. If we additionally think about the UAE leg of the Indian Premier League in September and October, lots of the absolute best worldwide cricketers had been based mostly within the Emirates for nearly 1 / 4 of the 12 months.
Away from the fixed spectacle of cricket throughout my two months within the UAE, the factor that the majority captured my consideration was the sheer flurry and number of sporting occasions happening.
UFC Struggle Island, a collection of Final Preventing Championship combined martial arts occasions, an idea created in 2020 in the course of the early levels of the pandemic, returned to Yas Island in late October this 12 months.
The DP World Tour Championship occurred in November at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, marking the conclusion of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, the prize awarded to the participant who accumulates probably the most factors in the course of the season.
And the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, arguably the UAE’s best-known sporting occasion, hosted greater than 80,000 followers this month over the fiftieth Nationwide Day weekend.
Throughout the two weeks main as much as the Grand Prix, these of us within the media had been based mostly on Yas Island, commuting every day to and from Zayed Cricket Stadium. From a distance, you’d be forgiven for considering that it sits on the sand like a starship that has landed within the desert. But inside its shadows lie a shocking array of high-class sporting amenities, not the least of which is the Zayed Cricket Academy.
Not a day or night time glided by with out us seeing or getting concerned with the vast spectrum of neighborhood sport in motion, whether or not it was late-night soccer matches, basketball classes or making an attempt out the brand new craze of padel, a racket sport with some similarities to tennis. You title it, that they had it, we performed it.
Because the F1 season reached the area in its last weeks, with races in Qatar and Saudi Arabia earlier than the UAE finale, Yas Island started to buzz with exercise. In our lodge, common costs shot up fivefold for the week of the race — no shock when you could possibly pop down for breakfast and watch the Crimson Bull and Ferrari entourages take up a lot of the obtainable house, and even have the nice shock, as we did, of sitting subsequent to driver Charles Leclerc on the restaurant.
It was all a part of the surreal expertise as all eyes turned to Abu Dhabi and Yas Island. For one weekend this man-made island grew to become the main target of the sporting world, as this titanic battle between two males, at reverse ends of their careers, to create sporting legacies performed out: Hamilton, the elder and skilled statesman; Verstappen, the younger, unfazed challenger.
When Verstappen was born in 1997, the Center East didn’t have a race on the F1 calendar. In truth, when Hamilton first began driving in F1 in 2007, Abu Dhabi didn’t also have a circuit. Such is the rising affect now of the area on the game and its future, 4 of subsequent season’s races will happen within the Gulf, in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.
As Verstappen’s automotive roared previous the checkered flag on the ultimate straight in entrance of a raucous primary grandstand, and a visceral roar of emotional celebration emerged from the Crimson Bull paddock, the second ensured that Abu Dhabi will probably be remembered within the annals of F1 historical past because the scene for one in all its most memorable chapters. It was sporting theater of the best order.
With the signing of a brand new 10-year deal, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will stay the ultimate race of the F1 season not less than till 2030, and so everybody can sit up for doing all of it time and again.
I flew to the UAE with no plans to attend the Grand Prix however after the reminiscences created final week, it’s secure to say that I actually plan to return.
As I left the UAE for Doha, and the fruits of the FIFA Arab Cup, Abu Dhabi was welcoming worldwide swimmers arriving for the fifteenth FINA World Swimming Championships, in addition to the likes of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray for the annual Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
In February, one of the best soccer membership sides from every continent, together with Chelsea and Palmeiras, will journey to the town for the FIFA Membership World Cup, additional cementing the standing of Abu Dhabi as a world sporting hub.
And forward of the most important present of all, subsequent 12 months’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, there’s a real perception now that the area, collectively, has established a fame as an epicenter for showpiece worldwide sporting occasions.

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