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Emirates TravelUAE guide / UAE sports

Sports in the UAE

The UAE receives so much attention from the outside world because of its modern
The UAE receives so much attention from the outside world because of its modern, glittering high-rise urban areas and tax-free business environment that it would be easy to overlook the role of sports in the life of the UAE. But in fact, an enormous range of sports and recreational activity takes place in the UAE, and most facilities for sporting events are first class.

Shopping may be a popular sport in Dubai, but horse racing is extremely popular – more popular in the UAE than camel racing. Dubai and other major cities in the UAE have equestrian clubs and horse racing facilities for those interested in watching the races or learning to ride. The Dubai World Cup horse race, which takes place in March, flies contenders for the purses in from every part of the world. The 2009 Dubai World Cup was the 14th running of the race, which is the richest in the world.

The Dubai World Cup is a flat race on dirt for four-year-old thoroughbred horses, and offers a US$6 million purse to the winner. The track distance is two kilometers, and the World Cup meeting is composed of seven races with purses totaling US$21.25 million, making it the richest horse race worldwide. The traditional sport of camel racing is also extremely popular in the UAE. Though camel races were traditionally informal events at festivals or weddings, the races now take place on customized tracks. Races are held during winter months (October to April), with the finale of the season being the annual camel race festival at Al Wathba. Entrants to this race come from all over the world.

The Zayed Grand Prize camel races, which are also held at Al Wathba racetrack were a favorite of former UAE President Sheikh Zayed, who sponsored the races and provided financial support for UAE citizens who care for camels. Former President Zayed himself owned a stable of 14,000 camels and a staff of 9,000 for their care and upkeep. The revival of camel racing has been very popular in the UAE.

During the winter months, camel races take place on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with special five day races held in the larger camel racing venues. Usually there is a morning race and an afternoon race, and race distances are from 4 to 10 km. From 15 to 70 camels may participate in a race. Stadiums for camel racing are spacious, with rest tents, broadcast facilities, and amenities for spectators. Camel races are casual dress events, and admission is free, but cameras are not permitted.

Betting on camel races is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, but the winners receive generous prizes, sometimes including luxury automobiles. Like thoroughbred race horses, successful racing camels can be worth millions of dollars.

Like so many places in the world, the UAE is devoted to football. Football, the most popular sport in the world, is also the most popular sport in the UAE. A dozen or so amateur football clubs have homes in the UAE, and they are very popular among natives and the large expatriate community. The largest football stadium in the UAE – and in the entire Middle East - is the Zayed Sports City, located in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi also has a football club, the Abu Dhabi Strollers, which gives expats an opportunity to play competitive amateur football.

Golf has become increasingly popular in the UAE, which now has more than a dozen golf courses. Three of the courses are championship golf courses as sanctioned by the PGA. Several of them are found at major hotels, making them convenient for travelers. Every March Dubai hosts the Dubai Desert Classic. This is a European Tour event that attracts some of the world’s top golfers and offers a prize of US$2 million. The Emirates Golf Club, where the Desert Classic takes place, was the first grass course in the Middle East and has two 18-hole grass courses.

One sport that is rather unexpected in the scorching climate of the UAE is ice skating. There are a number of ice rinks throughout the UAE. The Abu Dhabi Tourist Club, and the Abu Dhabi Ice Rink at Zayed Sports City are just two of them. Al Ain has its own ice rink, and Dubai has two: Al Nasr Leisureland and Hyatt Regency Galleria.

Cricket is an extremely popular sport in the UAE, partly because of the large number of expatriates from India and Pakistan. Large cricket stadiums are located in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. In Dubai, the Darjeeling Cricket Club runs matches every Friday, and a six-a-side Gulf tournament in March. World championship quality powerboat races are held every year in the UAE. Offshore Class One races are held off Dubai and Fujairah, while the Dubai International Marine Sports Club organizes year-round powerboat races. The UAE has powerboat teams that have been quite successful in world powerboat racing circuits in recent years.

Horse racing, camel racing, football, ice skating, golf, cricket, and powerboat racing are just some of the many sports that are part of what makes the UAE the exciting world destination it has become for travelers worldwide.

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