Despite 2009 having been a rather hard year for the UAE fitness and sport industry in term of revenues, sentiment remains positive. However, some work has to be done to convince residents and nationals of the advantages of regular exercise. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The sports and fitness industry in the UAE continues to grow, according to executives, despite 2009 having been a "challenging year" for fitness, sports and gym equipment and services.

"2009 was a difficult year during which time we all worked harder and smarter to maintain our position and targets," said Raymond Kelly, Managing Director of Raymond Sport. "The total dedication of our team is paying off."

The UAE is billed as one of the fastest growing markets for the sports and fitness industry. Globally, the market is forecast to have a value of $76.8 billion, up 10.9 per cent from 2008, according to industry analysis provider researchandmarkets.com.

Special discounts

However, due to the effects of the global financial crisis and subsequent job losses in the region some fitness clubs have lost members and are now trying to catch up by offering special discounts.

For the UAE, no detailed numbers for the sector are available. "Companies are reluctant to reveal their figures," Upasna Barua Kumar, public relations agent for the sport and fitness exhibition Sportex Middle East held in Dubai annually, told Gulf News. Estimates by market participants reach from Dh200 million to 250 million per year, only for the sports and fitness industry, not counting the wellness market sector.

Big players in the sports and fitness industry in the UAE are renowned brand names like adidas, Nike, Puma and Asics. Important distributors are Sun And Sands, Falak Sports Group and Sports Land.

One of the latest companies jumping on the bandwagon of the UAE's sports and fitness industry was Italian wellness solution provider Technogym. The company opened a showroom in Karama last November and a second outlet in Abu Dhabi will follow, president and founder Nerio Alessandri said.

The move was not illogical in times of crises, he added. "In times of crisis people tend to look after their health even more, because they have more time for it," Alessandri said. Moreover, "in the light of a significantly high rate of diabetes in the region of 22 per cent it is easy for me to highlight the advantages of our wellness service concept."

Technogym was the main sponsor of The Weight Loss Show held in Dubai at the end of January. The show was organised as part of the Dubai Shopping Festival to highlight problems the population of the UAE has with overweight and obesity.

A recent study by the World Health Organisation has shown that more than 60 per cent of Emiratis are overweight. The UAE has been considered as having one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, higher than the US. The study revealed that 50 per cent of men and women in the UAE are at least overweight.

Wrong nutrition

The percentage of diabetic UAE nationals stands at 13.5 per cent. Scientists say the root of the problem is poor nutrition, overconsumption of fast food and soft drinks as well as a lack of exercise.

Events like the Sportex exhibition not only try to function as a business platform for the industry, but also highlight the importance of sport and fitness for the individual.

One of the main highlights of the exhibition is the body building competition that is been organized in collaboration with the UAE body building association, says Kumar.

Regional clubs and associations are well represented at the exhibition and include the Dubai Sports Council, Dubai Sports City, Dubai School Agency (KHDA) as well as Al Nasr Leisureland, Right to Play, Tennis Emirates, UAE Athletics Federation and the UAE Cycling Federation to give visitors a taste of the wide range of possible local activities.

Sportex is the leading business arena for the region's sports and leisure industry. Elements such as the Body Building Championship make this a very vibrant and exciting show, while the increasing number of exhibitors and visitors is testament to the growing interest in health and wellness in the region," said Abdul Rehman Falaknaz, President of show organisers International Expo-Consults.

"Sportex has been growing since inception in line with the sporting industry in the region and we have already started getting a good response from the exhibitors for the upcoming show," adds Kumar.

Sportex 2010 will be held from October 31 to November 2 at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

  • 20% diabetes rate in the GCC region
  • 60% of Emiratis are overweight