The success of the Qatar World Cup should cement the Middle East's status as a leading destination for major sporting events, a UAE minister said.
Abdulla bin Touq, Minister of Economy, said he was excited by the potential of sport to drive tourism and trade and bring new talent and more jobs to the region.
Hundreds of thousands of people are enjoying the festival of football in Doha, while fan zones dotted throughout the Emirates have been packed with a multicultural mix of supporters cheering on their teams.
Mr bin Touq, speaking at the Investopia Future of Sport conference in Dubai on Thursday, said large-scale events such as the World Cup and Expo 2020 Dubai can "bring people together" and shine a positive light on the region.
“Sports investment brings in tourism, talent, creates jobs and builds infrastructure,” Mr bin Touq said.
“We are very excited about the potential of sport, we have seen what Doha has done with the World Cup and for the region.
“It has created a lot of investment and trade routes. Sport brings people together and we see that with big events like the World Cup, and with Expo 2020.
“This region should continue to be a place where major international events can be hosted.”
The UAE’s economy achieved 6.5 per cent growth in 2022 and is expected to climb to 7 per cent in 2023, Mr bin Touq said.
Visa reforms and a move to allow 100 per cent foreign ownership of businesses were cited as contributing factors in how the UAE had changed in the past 24 months to encourage economic prosperity.
Expanded World Cup broadens sporting horizons
In 2026, 48 teams will qualify for an expanded tournament to be held in the US, Mexico and Canada.
The increase in teams will bolster the chances of countries such as India and China gracing the tournament in the future.
The UAE, which missed out on qualification this time round after losing to Australia in the Asian play-offs, could also benefit from the revamp.
Bernard Caiazzo, chairman of the supervisory board of France's AS Saint Etienne and president of the Global Football Alliance, said the UAE had huge potential for sporting success on and off the pitch.
“The Middle East has real importance for the future of football,” he said.
“The World Cup will go to 48 countries in four years, and the UAE was not far from qualifying in 2022, so it is very possible to get to the next tournament. There is great potential here.
“There is a new economy in sport. Sport has changed a lot in five years and it will continue to evolve.”
During the two-day forum, speakers discussed how to shape the future of football, how to build stadiums to enhance the fan experience and how investors can inject cash into clubs to improve the global game.
Partnerships with Spanish clubs and the UAE have already reaped rewards. In 2017, La Liga partnered with Du telecoms to launch the UAE Football Association Academy League to develop under-18 talent.
In September, La Liga signed a letter of intent ahead of a 15-year partnership with Dubai-based Esports organisation Galaxy Racer in the hope of transforming the Spanish league’s brand presence in the Mena region and India.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, announced that it will open a first international theme park, at Dubai Parks and Resorts.
Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, said investment opportunities into established leagues would continue to globalise the game.
“In Spain we work on football, but the UAE has given us an opportunity to expand,” he said.
“Sports management is becoming more important and we need to look at more talent around the world to help in the development of clubs and general advocacy of sport.”