THE SPORTS ECOSYSTEM

Abu Dhabi 2017 | TOURISM & LIFESTYLE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Aref Hamad Al Awani, General Secretary of Adu Dhabi Sports Council, on popularizing sports in the Emirate, investments, and the Sport in Abu Dhabi campaign.

Aref Hamad Al Awan

How has the Sports Council progressed in its objective to bring the attention of the sports world to Abu Dhabi?

We have delivered a strong level of exposure to both our international events and to our partners, while continuing on our journey to becoming a global capital for sport. One of the major highlights we achieved during 2017 is the upgrade of the Abu Dhabi Tour to the highest level of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), which means this event was included in the 2017 World Tour Calendar. This is particularly impressive when we consider the Abu Dhabi Tour has only been running for two seasons and is already sitting at the top table of world cycling. This recognition has a positive impact on cycling, the wider sport sector, and for the development of events in Abu Dhabi. We have also maintained our focus to improve the level of engagement within the local community and to ensure we are promoting a healthy and active lifestyle for all of Abu Dhabi's residents.

What is ADSC's strategy to promote sports in the Emirate?

Our campaign Sport in Abu Dhabi seeks to promote the Emirate's central role in sport's global landscape. The campaign has three pillars: invite international teams to use our facilities and our sporting ecosystem, in turn bolstering our sports tourism return; leverage our events from the Sport in Abu Dhabi international promotional platform and increase event attendance and awareness; and promote the hosting of world-class international sports events in Abu Dhabi. We experimented with such an umbrella marketing campaign with our niche Golf in Abu Dhabi campaign a few years back. Based on the successful outcome and our experiences we will return to the market and expand our offering to include other sports such as football, cycling, and triathlons. The campaign also aims to highlight the importance of sport for all and promote healthy lifestyles.

How have your investments in infrastructure been reflected in the events Abu Dhabi has attracted?

We are more than halfway into the five-year strategy we launched in 2014, and now we are looking forward to completing all the goals of that strategy. The following two years will be extremely exciting for us; we are hosting the 2017 and 2018 FIFA Club World Cup, 2019 AFC Asian Cup UAE, and the 2019 Special Olympics. These are high-profile events that will continue to cement our position on the world's sporting map. We have now reached a point where our infrastructure is sufficient to host these type of events and, furthermore, it is precisely these types of partnerships that will enhance our ability to bid for future international events. This future plan will also depend on developing our own champions and creating paths for local athletes. This is why we require a long-term plan for the upcoming years.

What impact will a locally developed sports ecosystem have on the lifestyle of people in the UAE and how will this drive ADSC's future?

We see the future of the sports ecosystem from different angles. Abu Dhabi, and the UAE as a whole, have been a success story for the extensive number of achievements in a short time. We have hosted international events and promoted the Emirate as the indisputable hub for the sports industry in the region. At the same time, we have brought the knowledge and know-how through interactions with most of the international teams and entities that we partner with. We plan to continue to treat sport as a fundamental national requirement, similar to education, health, and security given its links to these areas. A country with a healthy, active community spends less on healthcare and also has a larger margin to spend on other areas.