I love Ramadan in the UAE — the shared anticipation of the iftar, visiting friends at the majlis. But this year, I’ve been away for a reason. The London Olympics. Long anticipated, much analysed in advance and now that they are here, I have never been more proud to be a Londoner.
I’ve just returned and the atmosphere in the UK was simply electric. I only wish I could have stayed right through to the end of the Paralympic Games to take in as much of the action as possible. I remember all the questions about whether the transport infrastructure would work — not only were the London Underground and buses flowing seamlessly but the spirit of the Olympics even had complete strangers talking to each other on the Tube about how the teams were doing.
The atmosphere could not have been more different from the day after London was awarded the Games in July 2005 when terrorists attacked the city’s transport network and shattered the lives of so many. I was very moved to see a formal tribute to those who died in the opening ceremony.
Something that will stay with me for a long time was an upbeat and courageous interview with one of the people who had been injured in that terrorist attack, now enjoying the transformation of our capital city which the Games have brought — this just summed up the spirit of London and how we will not let the actions of a few change our way of life.
In the East of London, there has indeed been quite a change. What was a run-down industrial site is now a beautiful Olympic Park that hosted — in my opinion — the best opening ceremony of recent times (yes, I know I am biased!). I loved every spectacular yet quirky British moment of it and of the story it told of Britain — who we are, what we’ve achieved and what makes us tick. Who else could bring Mr Bean and Mr Bond together within one spectacular event?
It was a great moment to see the UAE team, lead by Shaikh Saeed Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, walk proudly around the stadium among the 204 other nations that share a love for sport. I was also very happy that these Games have been the first in which every participating country sent women athletes. I know from the Ramadan visiting I have done since getting back how closely the Olympics are being followed here in the UAE.
The UAE/UK football match has been a high point for many — including the thousands of fans who joined my Embassy team after iftar at Dubai Mall where it was screened live at the mega ice rink screen. Emiratis the country over should be proud of what this young dynamic team, lead by an Emirati coach, has achieved and the energy it has bought to the sport here.
For Team GB, this has been a fabulous Olympics. I don’t think we have finished yet, but we have already achieved our best Olympic gold medal haul in 104 years, eclipsing the 19 from Beijing — Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy, Ben Ainslie, Andy Murray… where do I stop? A few days ago they won six gold medals in the space of an hour taking them to third on the overall table as I write this. A particularly exciting mix for me was the fact that Peter Wilson who won gold in the double trap shooting was coached by Shaikh Ahmad Bin Hasher Al Maktoum, who himself won gold in the same sport in Athens 2004.
The UK-UAE partnership doesn’t get much better than that! Clearly the investment into sport is paying off in the UK. The youth are coming through with facilities, support and role models — the three elements I believe are critical to success.
While sports have been thrilling the crowds, parallel events are taking place to promote the UK as a great place to do business. The British Business Embassy, based in Lancaster House just by Buckingham Palace, is hosting a series of events to showcase what British businesses haves to offer, across sectors from infrastructure to energy, ICT to health care.
Many Emirati businesses have played important roles in these too. The Royal Academy of Arts was the venue for two days focusing on Creative Industries, attended by industry leaders such as Sir Jonathan Ive and Stella McCartney, and even royalty, with Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge also present. They fly the flag for Great Britain, just as our Team GB do at the Olympics.
The closing ceremony takes place soon and the Paralympics will begin. But the impact of the Games will be far from over. The legacy of infrastructure will benefit Britain for decades to come. But the world over, people will have been inspired by their sports heroes — in the Olympics and the Paralympics.
I hope there will be a new generation coming through, in the UAE and across the world, who want to achieve their potential through sport. It is that transformation which makes the Olympics really special.
Dominic Jermey is the UK’s ambassador to the UAE.