Fight Island was an Abu Dhabi success

That a UFC event took place in the capital, despite the pandemic, is further testament of the UAE’s international standing

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 24: In this handout image provided by UFC,  Marina Rodriguez of Brazil poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 24, 2020 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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Today marks the final day of Fight Island, a global sporting event organised by the Ultimate Fighting Championship that took place at the heart of Abu Dhabi. For the past two weeks, mixed martial arts practitioners fought each other on Yas Island, even as fans and families cheered on their favourite fighters from home. The final roster, which was scheduled to take place early this morning, had 15 fights, tying the record for a single UFC card.

That a UFC event took place in the capital is further testament of the UAE’s place in the world as an international sports hub, even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Fight Island was a one-of-a-kind event in the world. Announced in April, it took just three months for the UFC and Abu Dhabi to plan and organise the event, with stringent measures put in place to ensure the safety and well-being of the organisers, the fighters and their teams, as well as the media, amid a global health crisis.

In order to avoid crowds gathering, the event was closed to spectators and located at Flash Forum, on Yas Island, where an 11-kilometre “safe zone” housed around 2,000 people. Most of them had been required to quarantine themselves for weeks in the run-up to the event, during which time they regularly tested for Covid-19. Those who tested negative remained in the safe zone, making the venue a coronavirus-free bubble.

This was not the first time that the UAE had hosted a major sporting event at such short notice. Consistent success in the past has encouraged the organisers of high-profile global events to choose the Emirates as a host. In the words of Dana White, the UFC president: “When you talk about hospitality, nobody is better than Abu Dhabi.”

Last year, Abu Dhabi signed a five-year agreement with the UFC. Fight Island was a natural extension of that partnership. In 2014, a significant portion of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament was held in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, given that the schedule clashed with the general elections in India. Encouraged by the tournament's positive reception that year, the Indian cricket board has now sought permission from its government to shift this year's season – which has been delayed by the outbreak of the pandemic in the country – to the UAE, in September.

The success of Fight Island was also due to the UAE's decades-long experience of hosting high-profile athletic events. In addition, the country's large-scale screening capabilities, which are part of the Emirates health ministry’s mass Covid-19 testing strategy, have allowed for such events to take place safely.

Fight Island was a one-of-a-kind event in the world

No matter who the winners of the fights were over the past couple of weeks, the contenders, the organisers and Abu Dhabi can all be proud to have etched their names in sporting history. Most importantly, they have brought joy to fans worldwide at an especially difficult time.

Athletic events have an extraordinary ability to bring people of different backgrounds together. While the Covid-19 crisis has prevented many such events from taking place, the positive message that sport brings to people's living rooms has endured. It has, for instance, inspired many people to stay fit during the pandemic by working out at home aided by online video exercises even as gymnasiums remained closed during the lockdown.

Fight Island embodies the best of these efforts, bringing joy to fans and their families at a time when they need it most.