Sporting Highlights Of Arabia

Chris Davies, director of rugby at Abu Dhabi Harlequins, talks us through the sporting highlights of Arabia region, from F1 to World Cup football these cities too, and in March you can dress up for the richest horse race in the world with the Dubai World Cup. And the list goes on, with football, rugby, athletics and traditional Arab sports all taking place in the region.’

While there is a huge range of sport, Chris has naturally chosen to specialise, focusing his time on rugby, but he has built up his knowledge of the Middle East through being involved in the game. ‘We have a number of nationalities within the club and the squad, consisting of British, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Americans, Europeans, and, of course, players from the Middle East,’ he explains. ‘The first half of the season, prior to December, we play within the UAE, so mainly Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Then, depending on how well we do, we might enter into a competition involving the other top teams in the Gulf, and this is when the travel increases, with games in Doha, for example.’

This also means that Chris’s favourite international sporting event in the Middle East just happens to involve rugby. ‘The Dubai Rugby Sevens, held towards the end of the year,’ he says. ‘The Sevens stadium is very different to any other IRB Sevens venue – it’s an impressive event staged in the middle of the desert. Of course, it’s also a great party atmosphere and is very family-friendly.’

The UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, has adopted its own world-class events – namely the F1, held towards the end of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit. ‘These sports attract big crowds from all over the world,’ Chris confirms. ‘With great facilities like Dubai Sports City, and Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi, we will only attract more. The increasingly popular MMA (mixed martial arts) fighting has taken place here now, as well as WWE wrestling. Sky-diving over the Palm island in Dubai has to be one of the most memorable activities you can try here,’ says Chris, ‘although it also still amazes me that you can go skiing on real snow if you go to Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates. ‘Camel racing is big in these parts, and fun to watch,’ says Chris. ‘They host it by the Meydan racecourse in Dubai. The camel is a prized animal here, and the top racing breeds can sell for millions of dollars – there is even a camel beauty contest in Abu Dhabi. Falconry is also very popular.’

With a pristine coastline and desert sands, it should be no surprise that sports like wakeboarding and kite-surfing, quad biking and off-roading, are also popular, and one region in particular offers a different kind of terrain. ‘Ras Al Khaimah in the north of the UAE is very rocky and mountainous and is popular for hiking and climbing, with old forts and villages to explore,’ says Chris. ‘Arrange a guide and visit Khatt Springs – a natural hot spring known for its healing properties.’

So does Chris feel positive about the one sport that has proved controversial – the Soccer World Cup in Doha in 2022? ‘It’s great for the region to be hosting such a high profile event,’ he says. ‘It will have a positive effect, and in lots of different ways. Obviously, the heat is a concern, but there will be protocols in place. There are rumours of air conditioned stadiums, and somehow manipulating the weather, but that’s far too scientific for me!’

Sport | Where to stay

It’s difficult to miss the Yas Viceroy Hotel viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/abudhabi in Abu Dhabi with its futuristic architecture, and the fact that it is right in the middle of the city’s F1 track makes it even more special. Book in for race weekend and watch the cars whizzing round.

Highlights

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (yasmarinacircuit.com)

Doha, Qatar

Qatar MotoGP (losailcircuit.com)

Dubai, UAE

Dubai Rugby Sevens (dubairugby7s.com)

Muscat, Oman

Tour of Oman (tourofoman.com)

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