Arab Sports: Popular Games Arabs Play in the UAE

Gary Greer 6/22/2020
Arab Culture

Sports have been around as long as the Middle East has been around.  In fact, archaeologists have found wall carvings that depict wrestling scenes from the time of pharaohs. Arab sheikhs have flown their falcons across Arabian skies for hundreds of years. At the same time, Bedouins have raced their Arabian steeds across the desert sands. In the UAE, they still race their camels too. Increasingly you’ll find Emirati youth participating in what America calls soccer and the rest of the world calls football. Indeed, sports are a vital part of the Emirati culture today as they were in the ancient Arab world. Here are some of the most popular sports you’ll find in the United Arab Emirates today:

1) Football

Football or soccer in the Middle East has become one of the most popular sports played in the UAE. In fact, some jokingly call it the second religion of the UAE. Since its founding in 1971, the United Arab Emirates Football Association devoted its time and effort to promoting the game. As a result, according to the FIFA World Rankings, the UAE currently occupies the 110th rank in the world. Additionally, the Abu Dhabi United Group purchased Manchester City Football Club in 2008. The club is currently ranked 2nd in the Premier League. Another sign of the Emiratis love for football is the number of built stadiums across the UAE. As a fact, Zayed Sports City is the largest sports complex in the country.

2) Cricket

With many people from the Indian subcontinent living throughout the Emirates, it’s no wonder that cricket in the UAE is one of the most favorite and most popular sports. In fact, that they’ve built no less than four cricket stadiums throughout the UAE. These would be the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium in Sharjah, and three in Dubai Sports City named Dubai Cricket Ground No.1, No.2 and No 3. Additionally, Dubai is also home to the International Cricket Council. The UAE cricket team qualified for the 1996 Cricket World Cup. Additionally, in the 2014 ICC World Twenty 20 in Bangladesh.

3) Horse Racing

Horse racing is probably one of the most popular Arab sports that is played solely by UAE natives. Because it’s easier to procure horse racing equipment, it has become more popular than camel racing. You can watch horse racing in the UAE in such venues as the Abu Dhabi Tourist Club, the Abu Dhabi Hunting and Equestrian Club, the Ajman Equestrian Club, Club Joumana, Jebel Ali Equestrian Club, Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club, and the Umm al-Qaiwain Marine Club and Riding Centre. Also, the richest horse race in the world is, in fact, the Dubai World Cup horse race.

4) Tennis

Every day, tennis in the UAE is becoming more and more popular. A lot of private clubs and hotels feature their own tennis courts. Additionally, the WTA and ATP event known as the Dubai Tennis Championships are hosted by Dubai every year and attract the top names in tennis.  In fact, Rafael Nadal marked his 10th Mubadala World Tennis Championship anniversary by picking up a record fifth Abu Dhabi title in December 2019.

5) Motorsports

The UAE has become famous for motorsports since the 1981 at the Dubai Grand Prix. This is when the first motorsports to take place in the UAE. It was held at a purpose-built circuit in Deira Corniche and featured sports car, touring car and celebrity races, as well as Formula One contests. Though having nothing to do with needing an international drivers license, UAE motorsports have grown in popularity throughout the Middle East ever since.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (originally called the UAE Desert Challenge) is an annual road rally race held since 1991. The Dubai Autodrome has hosted many international races since first opening in 2004. Also, Abu Dhabi has hosted Formula One races there from their inaugural 2009 season onward.

6) Camel Racing

In the UAE, camel racing is considered a traditional sport. It is one of the most popular sports throughout the Gulf region. However, as a result of strict government regulations prohibiting underage jockeys from racing, camel racing robot jockeys are now in use throughout the UAE.

7) Golf

Golf is one of the most popular sports in the UAE. This has led to the country having many golf courses, three of which are PGA championship golf courses. Perhaps the most famous of all golf games in the UAE is the Dubai Desert Classic. It is an European Tour event held in March that features some of the world’s best golfers competing for over US$1 Million. The 2020 event was won by Australian golfer Lucas Herbert who took home US$541,660 of the US$3,250,000 purse.

8) Basketball

In 2014, the United Arab Emirates was the first Asian country to host the Under-17 Basketball World Championship. However, usually Westerners living in the country play basketball.

9) Rugby

UAE Rugby fans play and watch rugby matches held throughout the year across the country. Some of the most well-known tournaments are Dubai’s Six Nations Rugby Tournament held in April and the Dubai Rugby Sevens held in November and December.

10) Falconry

One of the oldest sports in the country, falconry is still one of the most popular traditional sports. Many of UAE’s rulers were enthusiasts in falconry. This led to sanctions against industrial-scale falcon smuggling, financed and directed by the ruling sheiks. Unfortunately, even in 2020 smuggling continues. To such an extent that Saker falcons, Altai gyrfalcons, and gyrfalcons are becoming extinct throughout much of Central Asia. Golden eagles and Houbara bustards are also critically endangered in Central Asian regions where falconry is practiced.

In addition to these sports, the UAE embraces other sports including shooting and archery, rock climbing, powerboat racing, polo, bowling, and canoeing.

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