The UAE’s rise as a world hub for sports activities diplomacy


The UAE has established itself as a world hub for sports activities and hosted a number of high-profile sports activities occasions, together with the Dubai World Cup, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and Dubai Rugby Sevens.

These occasions have helped to spice up the nation’s tourism trade and lift its worldwide profile, however they’ve additionally been an efficient instrument within the realm of public diplomacy referred to as sports activities diplomacy, which has turn into an more and more necessary side of the UAE’s overseas coverage.

Whereas conventional diplomacy includes authorities actors and diplomats negotiating treaties and agreements, sports activities diplomacy includes non-official actors, similar to groups, athletes, and followers, who come collectively to have fun athletics.

Probably the most distinguished examples of sports activities diplomacy are massive worldwide occasions such because the Olympic Video games or the World Cup, however smaller competitions will also be efficient avenues. The UAE’s method to pursuing sports activities diplomacy, for instance, differs considerably from different nations.

Quicker, larger, stronger: The unique delicate energy

The usage of sports activities diplomacy has an extended historical past, relationship again to the traditional Olympic Video games, which had been held in Greece to advertise peace and unity among the many taking part city-states.

One of the crucial distinguished examples of sports activities diplomacy lately was the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the place North and South Korean athletes marched beneath a unified flag in the course of the opening ceremony, signalling a possible thaw in relations between the 2 nations.

Rosko Specman from South Africa taking part in towards gamers from New Zealand, in the course of the finals of Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens: HSBC World Rugby Males’s Sevens Collection 2020 – Dubai, The Sevens, Dubai. seventh December 2019. Photograph: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf Information

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Extra lately the World Cup 2022 in Qatar served as a platform for worldwide leaders to satisfy and interact in diplomatic dialogue. Athletic occasions is usually a good alternative for such casual conferences between political leaders, particularly for multilateral discussions, and can be utilized as an outreach to the worldwide group or to strengthen relations between particular nations.

Sport occasions may present insights into the host nation’s infrastructure, points of interest, and tradition, thus benefiting the host nation in some ways, together with encouraging tourism and overseas funding. They will additionally create a legacy for the host nation by enhancing its picture and showcasing its institutional and organisational strengths.

Whereas sports activities diplomacy can facilitate optimistic outcomes, it alone can not assure lasting and substantive diplomatic progress. It serves as a complementary instrument in a broader diplomatic technique. The impression of sports activities diplomacy initiatives is probably not long-lasting, and its advantages might fade over time.

A main instance of how mega sports activities occasions haven’t been capable of maintain the thought of diplomacy is the 1972 Summer season Olympics held in Munich. The video games had been supposed to advertise worldwide cooperation and to showcase Germany’s post-war reconstruction and democracy.

Nevertheless, the Video games had been tragically marred by an assault by a Palestinian terrorist group that resulted within the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. The incident shocked the world and highlighted the continued battle within the Center East, undermining the occasion’s diplomatic targets.

Sports activities diplomacy initiatives could be costly and logistically difficult to organise, significantly in nations that lack the required sources or infrastructure. Moreover, the commercialisation of sports activities can undermine the optimistic results of sports activities diplomacy by prioritising company pursuits over public diplomacy aims.

Many Olympic sports activities websites, for instance, find yourself underutilised, deserted or repurposed for different makes use of after the Video games are over. The price of sustaining and working these amenities typically outweighs their advantages, particularly in the event that they had been constructed for a selected occasion or objective and wouldn’t have a long-term use. The baseball stadium constructed for the 2004 Olympics, for instance, stood in ruins solely 10 years later and was finally used to deal with Syrian refugees in 2018.

A squad of 26 Emiratis are practising 5 hours every day at Abu Dhabi’s Jiu Jitsu Area

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Sports activities as a showcase for the GCC

The nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) area share a ardour for sports activities and are strategically situated on the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa, so sports activities diplomacy has been a pure match of their authorities’s overseas coverage toolkit. The soccer World Cup in 2022, for instance, was a chance for Qatar to showcase its capabilities and to enhance its worldwide fame by selling understanding between nations.

The UAE’s method has been to diversify past conventional sports activities similar to soccer and cricket into extra area of interest sports activities similar to golf, horse racing, and motorsports. This has enabled the nation to faucet into new markets and audiences, and to display its capability to host a spread of sporting occasions.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Abu Dhabi hosted the Final Preventing Championship’s “Combat Island” sequence on Yas Island. At a time when nearly all worldwide sporting occasions had been cancelled or postponed, Abu Dhabi demonstrated its resilience by coordinating these reveals, which had been then broadcast to a world viewers, for a lot of of whom Combat Island was an introduction to the area.

Important funding in world-class stadiums and amenities has enabled the UAE to determine itself as a hub for sports activities tourism within the area. The Yas Marina Circuit alone value roughly $1.3 billion to construct in 2008 and is the most-expensive F1 observe on this planet. The UAE has additionally invested in sports activities academies and coaching amenities to develop its personal athletes and groups, significantly in soccer.

The UAE has additionally leveraged its world affect and monetary sources to draw high-profile sports activities celebrities and groups to the nation.

This consists of partnerships with legends similar to Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi, and possession stakes in high-profile soccer golf equipment, similar to Manchester Metropolis and Paris Saint-Germain.

More and more the UAE has tried to compete with conventional winter coaching locations with native firms offering unique journey and lodging packages for groups and particular person athletes.

An necessary a part of the UAE’s sports activities diplomacy technique has been the promotion of gender equality in sports activities. This consists of initiatives such because the UAE Ladies’s Soccer League, the Abu Dhabi Ladies’s Run, and the Dubai Ladies’s Biking Tour, which have helped to create new alternatives for girls in sports activities and problem gender stereotypes within the area.

The UAE ladies’s nationwide ice hockey group visited Washington D.C. February 2018 and had been company of honour at a Washington Capitals sport. The occasion was coordinated by the UAE Embassy along with the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everybody month” to have fun the sport’s rising range all over the world.

The Brazilian connection

In 2008, jiu-jitsu was declared the nation’s nationwide sport, and by 2016, 130 colleges had been educating jiu-jitsu, with over 76,000 college students enrolled. The game of jiu-jitsu now has important cultural and sporting significance within the UAE, and is an instance of the UAE’s distinctive method to sports activities diplomacy.

The UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation raises consciousness of the game and envisions the nation because the premier venue for jiu-jitsu. The governing physique additionally created the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu Tour, the game’s most well-known event, in 2015, and a group of a number of the world’s finest grapplers prepare and compete within the UAE. Sheikh Tahnoun Bin Zayed funds many of those initiatives and is an lively practitioner and black belt of the game.

The ties the UAE has constructed with Brazil via the game little question have strengthened political ties, as evidenced by the nice and cozy reception Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva acquired when he visited Abu Dhabi on April 15, 2023.

Dr. Kristian Alexander is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Worldwide Safety & Terrorism Program at TRENDS Analysis & Advisory, Dubai. Rahaf Al Khazraji is an Emirati Researcher at Developments Analysis & Advisory in Abu Dhabi.


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