04 March 2018
The Arab nations have been under the limelight ever since Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Morocco qualified for the FIFA World Cup 2018, the first time in history where four teams from the region will be competing in the global event. The efforts taken by Arab nations have started to pay dividends as they see the emergence of sports in the region. Acknowledging the potential of the sports tourism market, focus has been laid on bringing global events to the region and also in the development of sporting infrastructure. Qatar sent ripples across the sporting industry when it won the right to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup in 2010. Since then, sports have come a long way gaining prominence across the region.
Arab nations – Witnessing progress
Arab nations are increasingly aware of the importance of developing sports in their country. They have dedicated a part of their budget towards infrastructure development of sporting facilities and also recognized sports as a key component in their national visions moving forward. This has resulted in several new teams emerging across the countries and showing promise in several sports. Despite not winning major honors, there has been a stark improvement in terms of their global rankings.
Highest Ranked Sport for GCC Nations
Major strides have been made in the world of football. The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be of historic significance for Arab football as four teams have secured a place to compete in the final stages of the competition for the first time.
Arab Teams that have qualified for the FIFA World Cup
Vast improvement has also been seen in cricket as the UAE cricket team qualified for the 2015 Cricket World Cup ahead of several other associate nations and put on spirited performances against the giants of the game. The UAE is currently in Division Two and will be competing with 9 other teams to secure the final two spots in the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Oman’s cricket team is another upcoming promising team which is currently playing in Division Three.
Sports Tourism – A new avenue for GCC Countries
GCC countries are trying to position themselves as leading sports tourism destinations on a global scale by hosting several global events. Sports tourism is a potential growth driver for economies with the value of the world sports tourism being valued at nearly USD 600 bn (World Travel Market). Sports accounted for 25% of all tourism receipts globally, with 76% of trips, planned around a sporting event in 2016 (World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)). The GCC countries have been looking to tap into this market and have recognized sports as a key focus area as part of their diversification plans.
Most notably, Qatar turned everyone’s eye in 2010 by securing the rights to host the FIFA Football World Cup 2022 beating bids from the USA, Japan, Australia and South Korea. Qatar, the richest country per capita placed the bid at the center of its national and foreign policy strategy. Hosting one of the biggest sporting spectacles brings immense international and domestic recognition while also providing economic and diplomatic opportunities. A budget of USD 7bn has been pledged to develop sporting facilities for the event, which include the construction of sports stadiums and renovation of old ones. In 2017, French football club Paris Saint-Germain backed by Qatari owners obliterated the existing world transfer fee record by purchasing the Brazilian footballer Neymar from FC Barcelona at USD 263mn, usurping the previous record by nearly 125%.
The UAE is also committed to be a prime sporting destination in the region. Dubai and Abu Dhabi frequently stage notable international events in Formula 1, Tennis, Cricket and several other sports. The additional visitor numbers generated from these events such as the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Dubai World Cup will contribute towards achieving the country’s bold plans to attract 20 million visitors to Dubai by 2020 and 7.5 million to Abu Dhabi under its 2030 plans. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has been a part of the Formula One calendar for the past 7 years becoming one of the biggest sporting events in the country. Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Dubai Rugby 7s, Dubai World Cup for horse racing are other key events taking place in the UAE. Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the UAE owns City Football Group, consisting of Manchester City F.C, Melbourne City F.C and New York City F.C, some of the best football clubs in their respective leagues.
Bahrain has been the home for a major sporting event, the Bahrain Grand Prix for 13 years. Additionally, Bahrain’ Supreme Council for Youth & Sports is planning to build a multisport stadium with the capability to host major events in football, basketball, handball, bowling, badminton and table tennis.
Where are they heading to?
Seeing the amount of funds pledged for developing sporting infrastructure and attracting global sporting events, the signs for sports development in the region look promising. Development of facilities with international standards will aid grassroots development which is the base for producing successful athletes and teams. These changes are expected to further enhance the development of sports in the region and in all likelihood the days when Arab nations start challenging for major honors in the global arena are not far away.
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