The desert landscape of Dubai may lend itself to traditional sports like falconry and endurance horse racing, but sports fans will find plenty to cheer about. Spectator sports like football and cricket are popular among locals and expats, and the emirate hosts a number of world-class sporting events that attract supporters from across the globe. Here’s where to get your fill.
While the traditional sport of camel racing was originally only practised at weddings and special events, these days it’s a big business in Dubai with races held almost every weekend from October to March, culminating in the 10-day championships in February. The racecourse is 40km out of town with two swish grandstands and a floodlit track for night racing during Ramadan.
Traditionally the action has taken place right on the track, with spectators joining owners, as Emiratis still do now, following their lanky, long-lashed beauties around the track in their 4WDs, urging on their pride and joy. The rather erratic driving of the owners can be as entertaining as the camels, racing at speeds of up to 60km/h.
While the use of young jockeys was once a contentious issue, now robotic jockeys ride the ships of the desert, operated by remote control. It’s a curious sight, robots and camels galloping out of a cloud of dust, and 4WDs creating havoc on the course. Take your camera.
It’s not surprising that the Dubai Desert Classic attracts some of the best golfers in the world. It’s one of the world’s richest tournaments, with prize money of US$2.65 million. Held at the Emirates Golf Club, the tournament runs for four days and takes place in late February or March. Many of Dubai’s golf-crazy expats take the whole week off for the opportunity to watch the world’s best go round their local course.
The UAE football (soccer) premiership runs during winter and it’s definitely worth attending a match if you’re a bit of a football fanatic. Al Ain has been the most consistent team in recent years and the matches are as worth watching for the electrifying performances of the colour-coordinated cheer squad of drummers and singers, as for the on-pitch heroes. Stadiums are dotted around the city. See Gulf News for upcoming fixtures.
A love of horses runs deep in Arab blood, and the racing season in Dubai has gained world attention, as has Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin stables. The Dubai International Racing Carnival runs from February through to the end of March culminating in the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race. Gambling isn’t permitted, but the World Cup offers a fantastic people- and silly hat–watching experience. Check the website of the Emirates Racing Association for the exact dates of race meetings throughout the year.
International cricket is played at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, the headquarters of the International Cricket Council (ICC) since 2009. Known for its spectacular system of floodlights called the ‘Ring of Fire’, the 25,000-seat stadium plays host to ‘day-night’, Test and Twenty20 matches. One of the most popular tournaments is the Emirates Airline T20, held over two days each March.
Dubai’s straight shooter
This being Dubai, where success is an expectation that is rarely unfulfilled, it comes as no surprise that the UAE’s first Olympic medal was gold in colour. Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, a member of Dubai’s ruling family, won the men’s double trap shoot in style at the 2004 Athens Olympics with an Olympic record–equalling display of cool-headed marksmanship.
The Dubai Tennis Championships, held over two weeks from late February, consists of a Women’s Tennis Association event followed by an Association of Tennis Professionals event. There’s usually a good turnout of top names for the women’s event, and the men’s event is finally attracting the big names, too.
The Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament takes place at the Sevens Stadium rugby ground and sees many of Dubai’s expats worshipping the sport of outdoor beer-drinking. There’s also a rugby competition that attracts teams from powerhouses such as New Zealand, France, South Africa and Fiji. It’s a popular social event that usually falls in the first weekend of December, attracting more than 100,000 enthusiastic spectators over three days.
Last updated in September 2017