UAE becomes world-class sports venue
The UAE quickly became an awesome arena for athletic brilliance, playing host to famous sports personalities including Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Sachin Tendulkar, Lionel Messi, Michael Schumacher and many more
From falconry to camel racing the land that now forms the UAE has always been an area of sporting endeavour.
However, over the last 40 years, the country has been transformed into a sporting metropolis that has played host to nearly every modern-day great you can think of. From Tiger Woods to Roger Federer, the Emirates has seen all-time greats at their best and the many sporting spectacles have done their bit to put the country firmly on the map. This weekend sees the UAE's oldest sporting event take place for the 41st time. Yes, the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens is older than the country it takes place in and its remarkable growth mirrors that of the UAE.
Back in 1970 none of the handful of players that ran out on the sand pitch for the first Sevens could have imagined the tournament would become a world record-breaking event. But every year 50,000 fans turn up at the purpose-built The Sevens to cheer on the world's best exponents of rugby's most lung-busting format in what has become the globe's most popular Sevens tournament. And on the 40th birthday of the country the UAE will make its debut in the event and the hope is that it won't be long before the side is packed full of Emiratis.
"It's good to see that there's a sole UAE representation and that we're pushing guys through from the Emirati population so I hope that continues," UAE coach Wayne Marsters says. "The country's 40th birthday is a good reason for the guys to be motivated. All the expatriate players in the team have a real sense of belonging to the UAE."
If Marsters' men are to do well then they'll be emulating the UAE footballers of 1990. The golden generation of Adnan Al Talyani represented a country that was not even in existence when they were born at Italia '90. And although they were knocked out at the group stages the side did their country proud.
Since then the football-mad country has had to make do with the Falcons reaching the Asian Cup final in 1996 and winning the Gulf Cup in 2007. But that's not to say they've been starved of top-class football. Fans got to see one of the greatest ever sides two years ago when a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona won the Club World Cup at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Sports City stadium. To see one of the Beautiful Game's premier tournaments take in the UAE capital was a huge coup for the country and shows how sport has shone a light on its spectacular growth.
One sport that's done that better than most is golf. The sport was being played in the UAE way back in the 1950s - when the Royal Air Force Course in Sharjah was founded. And in 1971 the Dubai Country Club officially opened, with a nine-hole sand golf course. However, it was with the opening of the Emirates Golf Club in 1988 and the first Dubai Desert Classic a year later that the UAE first swung into golf's consciousness.
Since then the 'Major of the Middle East' has seen greats like Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods become regular visitors to the fairways and greens of the country. With the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship now hosting one of the best fields outside of the Majors, the European Tour's world-famous Order of Merit competition ending at the Dubai World Championship and being renamed the Race to Dubai, the UAE's importance to the sport is clear. And the European Tour's chief executive claims that will remain the case for many years to come.
George O'Grady said: "Throughout the season, every week Dubai is talked about, referred to and showcased throughout the world.
"The region has been and will continue to be a stronghold for the European Tour. The early season desert swing has become the focus of the golfing world."
It's with Formula One though that the rapid transformation of the UAE from a series of desert entities to a country with global reach and clout can perhaps best be seen. Last month the whole world watched as double world champion Sebastian Vettel dramatically suffered a punctured tyre on Turn One before Lewis Hamilton proved his critics wrong with a memorable drive in Abu Dhabi. It was the third Grand Prix in the UAE capital and once again showed why Yas Marina Circuit is the envy of the motorsport world. Built on the now-famous man-made island, the track, both on the ground and from the air looks like an Arabian version of Monaco with multi-million dollar yachts moored just yards from the racing lines of Vettel and co.
"At the start of my career Iâwould never have thought I'd end up racing in Abu Dhabi," says Mark Webber. "But it's a great venue and all the drivers enjoy coming to the UAE."
But while the country is only now in the fast lane in the spectacle of speed it's been bowling fans over in the cricketing world for decades. Last month the Sharjah Cricket Stadium entered the Guinness Book of Records for hosting the most number of one-day internationals. The Pakistan–Sri Lanka clash held there was the 201st to be staged at the famous venue which throughout the 1980s and 90s which saw the emirate host every modern-day great you can think of. Sachin Tendulkar, Waqar Younis, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara have all hit sixes or bowled yorkers at the now-fabled arena. That laid the path for the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Sport City Cricket Stadium to become venues that have hosted every major international side.
The chairman of the Emirates Cricket Board Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan said of the Sharjah accolade: "This is something of which we are proud. This will encourage us to give more support to other sports and the country is becoming a base for cricket."
As the last 40 years have proved, looking ahead, it certainly won't be just cricket with big plans for the UAE.
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The super Spaniard delighted crowds as only he could on his way to victory in the 1992 Dubai Desert Classic.
The leading light of the UAE's 1990 World Cup heroes, Al Talyani scored a stunning 54 goals for his country.
In three visits 'Ethiopian Emperor' only narrowly missed out on breaking the world marathon record in Dubai.
The 'Little Master' was a regular visitor to Sharjah, his 143 against Australia in 1998 one of his best ever centuries.
The Argentine ace was at his very best when he helped Catalan giants Barcelona to Cup World Cup glory in 2009.
The German may not have won at Yas Marina Circuit but it was still a privilege to watch him drive in the UAEâcapital.
His 2006 win over Roger Federer in the final at the Aviation Club is one of the greatest sporting comebacks we've seen.