From camels to cricket: Dubai's world of sport
Early morning training for desert camel racing. (Phil Weymouth/LPI)
The love of sport runs deep in Dubai, where old traditions like camel racing and new ones like rugby share the limelight.
While the traditional sport of camel racing was originally only practised at weddings and special events, these days it's a big business in Dubai with races held almost every weekend of the year, culminating in the 10-day championships in February.
The fancy new racecourse is 40km out of town with two swish grandstands and a floodlit track for night racing during Ramadan.
Traditionally the action has taken place right on the track, with spectators joining owners, as Emiratis still do now, following their lanky, long-lashed beauties around the track in their 4WDs, urging on their pride and joy. The rather erratic driving of the owners can be as entertaining as the camels, racing at speeds of up to 60km/h.
While the use of young jockeys was once a contentious issue, now robotic jockeys ride the ships of the desert, operated by remote control. It's a curious sight, robots and camels lolloping out of a cloud of dust, and 4WDs creating havoc on the course. Take your camera.
International cricket is held in nearby Sharjah, with matches held in October, November, March and April; the Sharjah Cup is held in March or April. Participating teams change every year, but one is always India or Pakistan, which attracts the fiercely loyal nationals of both countries. These are usually 'day-night' matches, starting at 2.30pm and finishing under lights at around 10.15pm.
A love of horses runs deep in Arab blood and over the past few years the racing season in Dubai has gained world attention, as has Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin stables. The Dubai International Racing Carnival runs from February through to the end of March culminating in the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race. Gambling isn't permitted, but the World Cup offers a fantastic people- and silly hat-watching experience. Check the website of the Emirates Racing Association for the exact dates of race meetings throughout the year.
It is not surprising that the Dubai Desert Classic attracts some of the best golfers in the world. It is one of the world's richest tournaments, with prize money of $2.2 million. Held at the Emirates Golf Club, the tournament runs for four days and takes place in late February or March. Many of Dubai's golf-crazy expats take the whole week off for the opportunity to watch the world's best go round their local course.
Dubai's straight shooter
This being Dubai, where success is an expectation that is rarely unfulfilled, it comes as no surprise that the UAE's first Olympic medal was gold in colour. Sheikh Ahmed al-Maktoum, a member of Dubai's ruling family, won the men's double trap shoot in style at the 2004 Athens Olympics with an Olympic record-equalling display of cool-headed marksmanship.
The UAE football (soccer) premiership runs during winter and it is definitely worth attending a match if you're a bit of a football fanatic. Al-Ain has been the most consistent team in recent years and the matches are as worth watching for the electrifying performances of the colour-coordinated cheer squad of drummers and singers as for the on-pitch heroes. Stadiums are dotted around the city. See Gulf News for upcoming fixtures.
The Dubai Tennis Championships, held over two weeks from late February, consists of a Women's Tennis Association event followed by an Association of Tennis Professionals event. There is usually a good turnout of top names for the women's event, and the men's event is finally attracting the big names, too.
The Dubai Rugby 7s tournament takes place at the Dubai Exiles rugby ground and sees many of Dubai's expats worshipping the sport of outdoor beer-drinking. There is also a rugby competition that attracts teams from powerhouses such as New Zealand, France, South Africa and Fiji. It's a popular social event that usually falls in the first weekend of December, attracting around 20,000 enthusiastic spectators for the final.