Dubai: The UAE, which turns 49 on December 2, has already become a force to reckon with on the global map - and it will be no exggeration to say that it has been a 360 degrees growth. Be it in improving the quality of life for it’s people to technology, health, education and tourism, the country’s leaders have left no stones unturned in their pursuing for pushing the boundaries.
Sport had also been one of their priority areas in projecting the image of the country - and the results are showing. The country has made it’s niche as the sporting hub of the Middle East as the hosts of Dubai World Cup horseracing, Formula One Grand Prix, a ATP and WTA tennis stop in Dubai, four European Tour golf events, a World Series rugby event on an annual basis - not to speak of the occasional bigtime football and cricket events.
The UAE’s organisational skills received a major thumbs-up from the global cricketing fraternity when they hosted the Indian Premier League (IPL) under the challenging circumstances across September-November - silently staking it’s claim as a potential host of more such big ticket events in future.
The country has produced it’s own share of sporting heroes down the years. His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had shown the way when he was one of the world class endurance riders and won the Logines FEI World Endurance Championship in 2012. Racing on Madji du Pont, he beat 152 riders from 38 countries to cross the finish line in seven hours.
The UAE team, consisting of Sheikh Mohammed, Sheikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum and Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, also won the team competition, completing two hours ahead of France. The UAE squad, comprising of members of the Dubai Ruler’s family, had won laurels in the demanding sport time and again in the last decade.
Gulf News speaks to a number of top Emirati achievers in sport on the eve of National Day:
Saeed Bin Surour, Emirati racehorse trainer
The UAE is a relatively new country having been founded on December 2, 1971, but the incredible progress it has made in such a short span of time fills me with great pride and joy.
Thanks to the extraordinary vision of our leaders, we have been able to work together to give everyone an opportunity to share in the country’s growth and success.
National Day is a great day not just for Emiratis like myself but for all the people from around the world who have chosen to call the UAE their home, away from home.
My job as a racehorse trainer keeps me out of the UAE for long periods of time but that does not change anything. I am still a fiercely proud Emirati and everything I do or accomplish in my sport is for the UAE, its Rulers and its people.
I see myself as an ambassador for the UAE and I am totally committed to helping build a fair, safe and competitive country that is an example of the modern Arab world.
Happy UAE National Day to one and all!
Shaikh Ahmad Hasher Al Maktoum: 2004 Athens Olympics gold medallist
For me personally, it has always been about the UAE flag. I started off with my training for an Olympic gold medal in 1997, and through this period I travelled throughout the world with the sole aim of flying the UAE flag.
I knew that one day I would achieve this dream of having an Olympic medal and also flying my country’s flag at the biggest sporting event in the world.
I have been lucky as everything simply came together and fell in place for me that day in Athens (August 17, 2004) when I went on to win gold and also equal the Olympic record of 189 hits in the double trap. I knew that with that one effort the UAE was placed firmly on the sporting map of the world.
As we look ahead, it is my desire to see many youngsters come through the system so that the UAE can continue on this path. I am still the only Emirati with an Olympic gold medal. But, I would love to have someone else step up to this challenge and emulate my feat by winning a second gold for the UAE.
Mohammad Bin Sulayem, 14-time Middle East Rallying Champion & Vice-President, FIA
Entering motorsport was like walking into the unknown. During the first two years, the thrill was in winning the title but after that, it became a huge responsibility as I was more scared of losing than winning another title.
Till then, Qatar had a huge set-up for their drivers and it was me who went and made the rest of the UAE and the region believe that glory can be achieved as long as one is willing to be challenged in more ways than one. I didn’t have sponsors, didn’t have a car at times - but I never gave up on my dream of being the best.
Slowly, it dawned on me that every sport has a winner and then comes a champion followed by a star. For me, it was always about aiming for the top so that I leave a legacy behind for the next generation to follow.
Over a period of time, I have also realised that as a star and a champion, I am called to be an educator. I am required to be a mirror for my country where I end up saying the right things at the same time - respecting and leaving an image that can be cherished by all.
Motorsport gave me a lot, and I have tried to repay my sport with a lot of sacrifice. I had a team to back me but out there on the trail, I was all alone in the wilderness. But I stood by my beliefs and delivered. I am proud of what I have achieved.
Khalid Esmail, first goalscorer for the UAE at the 1990 World Cup
When we went for the 1990 Fifa World Cup in Italy, we left with a lot of fire in our hearts. We didn’t have the same privileges as players have these days. It’s been 30 long years since then and my dream is to see my country qualify to a second Fifa World Cup sooner than later.
When I scored that goal against Germany, I felt so much joy. That goal was not just for me, but for the entire UAE. Everyone rejoiced here and were glad that we had announced ourselves as a footballing nation on a truly global stage.
Most people remember that goal. I remember it too, and very fondly. My family takes pride of my feat. But all this would mean nothing if I and the goal I scored doesn’t inspire the next generation of players here.
I think the road ahead for qualifying for the 2022 Fifa World Cup is going to be tough for the UAE. The team is good, and so is the coach. But we lost crucial points earlier in the campaign. There couldn’t be a better joy than seeing the UAE at the next World Cup in Qatar.
Mohammad Tauqeer, Captain of UAE team in 2015 ICC World Cup
It was an unforgettable experience to see the UAE flag going up at the captains’ call of the 2015 World Cup in Melbourne, Australia. Standing in the same row as me were some of the biggest names in world cricket like M.S.Dhoni, Misbah-ul Haq, Michael Clarke, Eoin Morgan and I kept thinking that I could be in this position today - thanks to the opportunity provided by the UAE.
It was after a gap of four 50-over World Cups since 1996 that we qualified for the showpiece - and I must thank all my teammates and our coach Aaquib Javed - who had worked extremely hard on our fitness ever since he took over. The former Pakistan pace ace kept insisting on the virtues of fitness if we wanted to excel in international cricket as most of us were amateur cricketers who could afford only one session of practice after day’s work. Thankfully, I got a lot of help from my employers for the last two to three months when we were in the final stages of our preparation.
Talking about the campaign, I must say that our match against Ireland turned out to be one of the best matches in the tournament which we lost just by two wickets. Shaiman Anwar scored a century while Amjad Javed took three wickets and I took a couple, Yes, we failed to win a single match but participating at that level was quite an eye-opener for us.
Looking back, I must say that leading the country was certainly the most memorable phase of my career spanning over 20 years. The UAE has, in recent times, earned a lot of reputation as hosts of international fixtures we should also translate it into producing our own cricketers of quality.