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Dubai plays vital World Cup role with GDP goal in its sights

Germany have won the World Cup four times, the most recent in 2014 Creative Commons
Germany have won the World Cup four times, the most recent in 2014
  • Germany and Japan to set up training camps for FIFA’s showpiece
  • Sports industry viewed as key contributor to GDP, after passing $1bn
  • China in talks to base Olympians there ahead of Paris 2024

Germany and Japan are setting up training camps in Dubai ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The football associations’ plans demonstrate that the emirate has adopted the same model for sports as has proven so effective in tourism and real estate.

The World Cup squads are following in the footsteps of several English Premier League clubs, including Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle, which visited the UAE for warm weather training earlier this year.

The training camps form part of Dubai’s strategy to increase the contribution of the sports industry to its GDP, after it passed $1 billion per year.

More than 20,000 people are employed in Dubai’s sports sector. Over 400 sports events, of which more than a quarter are international, are regularly organised in the emirate. 

The city is also home to more than 400 academies that offer sports training and more than 100 public and private sports clubs.

Michael Bessey, GCC regional representative for global public affairs consulting firm ASG, told AGBI that Germany and Japan’s announcement was “not surprising”. 

The ‘build it and they will come’ model

He added: “Dubai is a natural choice given its superior infrastructure, quality of life, global connectedness, proximity to Qatar and other factors.

“The emirate’s leadership seems to be approaching building its sports sector using the same ‘build it and they will come’ model that has proven so effective with tourism, hospitality and other sectors. 

“Dubai has built world-class sports infrastructure, and is now incentivising teams to come and use those facilities. Its reputation as a business and tourism-friendly destination works in its favour,” he said.

“Unlike neighbouring Abu Dhabi, which is trying to fundamentally shift its economy model, Dubai is doubling down on its existing strengths as a global hub for service sectors, especially tourism and entertainment. Making sports into a business is very much consistent with this.”

The Chinese Olympic Committee is also in talks about the possibility of organising training camps in the UAE for various national squads as part of preparations for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

A delegation visited Dubai earlier this year and reviewed facilities to host training camps for multi-faceted sports involving high-level international athletes.

‘Ambitious vision to upgrade all parts of the sports ecosystem

Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed, chairman of Dubai Sports Council, said: “The sports sector is an important contributor to the local economy, part of an ambitious vision to upgrade all parts of the sports ecosystem and increase the sector’s contribution to Dubai’s GDP. 

“We aim to continue offering amenities that guarantee the UAE’s sports leadership at regional and international levels.”

He added: “The emirate has emerged as the destination of choice for global tourists, business visitors and sports communities. The world has confidence in our ability to welcome everyone safely and securely.”

Spot the sports star

Given its entertainment and lifestyle options, the city has also become a favourite leisure destination of sports stars and other celebrities. 

Footballers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappé, Robert Lewandowski and Lucas Paqueta, boxers Floyd Mayweather, Anthony Joshua and Amir Khan, and cricketing icons Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Wasim Akram can often be spotted holidaying in Dubai.

It also has a growing reputation for hosting tournaments. During the six months of Expo 2020 – October 2021 to March 2022 – Dubai hosted more than 30 international sports events, including the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup qualifiers, cricket’s Twenty20 World Cup, and the European Tour’s Race to Dubai finale in golf.

During the pandemic, when many tournaments had to be cancelled or delayed, the UAE emerged as a refuge, stepping in to host the ICC Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup after plans to hold it in Australia and then India had to be scrapped.

Other major events held every year include golf’s Desert Classic, the Dubai marathon, the Dubai Open tennis and Dubai Rugby Sevens.

World Cup winners and losers

Qatar’s performance as World Cup host will play a central role in shaping the future of global sporting events in the region, Bessey said.

“Dubai, on the heels of its Expo success, will no doubt be closely watching how the World Cup plays out. 

“If the World Cup is not as successful as Qatar hopes, it could have broader implications for the willingness of international sporting organisations –including the International Olympic Committee – to hold major events in the Gulf,” he said.

“That said, a less than stellar showing by Doha could also present an opening for Dubai to cement its position as the natural choice for an Olympics in the Gulf.”

According to PwC, the GCC states have spent more than £50 billion ($58 billion) on sports development, with more to come.