As Sydney Harbour fills up with the tears of lachrymose cricketers, transgressors of a law of the game, rather than of the land, one can’t help but think how hysterical the response has been, and ask why. How does the game of cricket, (cricket I ask you!), provoke such wailing and blubbing? It seems to be the case that the further up the ladder you climb as a player, the less you play for the reason you started. For fun. Yes, we all understand that the money at stake means winning is vital, but unfortunately it has spawned televised cheats who lost sight of the world around them. Messrs Smith, Warner and Bancroft aren’t alone of course. They just got caught. Lengthy bans, national outcry, peer group finger pointing…..all rather distasteful.
How refreshing, therefore, to be able to watch top sport played for fun here in UAE. That’s not to say there isn’t a competitive edge, but we are blessed with incredible facilities that attract the best in the world to train and compete, and it seems the sunshine calms them down. Perhaps it’s the rather genial crowds following them that help create a festival atmosphere, the sense of privilege we sand dwellers feel when strolling around the Emirates Golf Club watching Rory McIlroy smash it 350 yards down the immaculate fairways; the same fairways where, a week or so before, I may have topped it 200 yards into the rough.
No sandpaper, swearing, bile or vein popping anger from the sidelines. Just families on a day out getting up close to the action.
You can take your pick here in UAE, not just with golf, where the leader of the free world has built a very decent course in partnership with Damac, the property giant run by the highly respected Hussain Sajwani, but pretty much anything. New stadia are being built, smack bang in the middle of Dubai, as evidenced by the development of the 30,000 seater just off the Sheikh Zayed Road, on the sight of the old Dubai prison. Prime real estate, virtually adjoining the impressive new City Walk retail and residential scene, given over to spectators.
Cyclists can follow the Dubai Tour and the Tour of Abu Dhabi, where the world’s best compete. They can also give it a whirl themselves at the incredible Al Qudra Cycle Path, an 86 kilometer track consisting mainly of a 50 kilometer loop in the desert, where you will see oryx and gazelles. A welcome distraction from fluorescent Lycra.
The Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi has played host to Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer, and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis attracts an equally impressive list. Local events, sponsored by local businesses, showcasing the best in breed.
Yes, UAE, and Dubai especially, attracts clubs and players to train with the sun on their backs, making use of some of the best facilities on the planet. Pre-season, even mid-season, tours are commonplace, with Manchester United swapping their Carrington training ground in January for Nad Al Sheba, and the Trafford Centre for the Dubai Mall. No doubt a welcome shot in the arm for retailers as Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and their wallets hove into view.
County cricketers make use of the incredible ICC nets, pitches and gym at Sports City, where Surrey (with a decent young seamer or two on display), Lancashire, Glamorgan and UAE all played a series of warm up matches at the end of March. Alec Stewart, Surrey’s Director of Cricket, could not have been more complimentary about the facilities, staff and logistics and, importantly, will be back next year.
And yet all round these marvellous tracks, courses and pitches are huge amounts of residential property development. The attraction is, of course, that you can walk from your apartment or villa, straight to the first tee.