Abu Dhabi GP, Dubai Sevens, Asia Cup: UAE and the region's biggest sporting spectacles

ICC claims upcoming T20 World Cup will be biggest event region has seen. Is that true?

The annual Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a highlight on the region's sports calendar. Reuters
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The ICC reckon the T20 World Cup, which starts on Sunday, is going to be “the biggest sporting spectacle to have ever taken place in the region”.

Forty-five matches will take place across Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai between October 17 and November 14.

UAE in particular seems a fitting host for the T20 showpiece – especially given it is the first time it will be hosted outside of the elite Test-playing nations.

After all, the final will be played at the Dubai International Stadium, which has already hosted more T20 internationals than any other venue in the world.

When tickets went on sale last week, queues on the online site stretched into the tens of thousands – with most of the logjam caused by fans wanting to see the meeting between India and Pakistan on October 24.

But is calling it the region’s biggest ever sporting spectacle an open and shut case? Not exactly.

Here is a selection of events from the past which would rival it.

Club World Cup, 2009, Abu Dhabi

Lionel Messi scored an extra-time winner as Barcelona beat Estudiantes 2-1 in front of 43,000 in Zayed Sports City. Pep Guardiola managed the winning team. Juan Sebastian Veron, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry, Carles Puyol and Xavi all played, too. Which is about as good as it gets.

Club World Cup, 2017, Abu Dhabi

You cannot claim to be the GOAT until you have won a Club World Cup final for your team in a final in Abu Dhabi. Those are the rules. Where Messi led, Cristiano Ronaldo followed by scoring the winner for Real Madrid against Gremio, with 41,000 watching on in the capital. Madrid defended their title at the same venue a year later.

Asian Cup, 1996, UAE

At the culmination of 26 matches, Saudi Arabia lifted the trophy after a penalty shoot-out win over hosts UAE in front of 60,000 in Abu Dhabi. According to official statistics, 448,000 spectators attended over the course of the competition, an average of over 17,000 per game.

Asian Cup, 2019, UAE

The continental competition – which is the second oldest in the world after the Copa America – returned to the Emirates in 2019. The expanded competition attracted over 644,000 spectators across 51 matches, with Qatar winning the final against Japan.

Andy Ruiz v Anthony Joshua II, 2019, Saudi Arabia

One of history’s largest ever boxing bouts was all due for this summer in Saudi Arabia. But then a court ruled Tyson Fury had to complete his trilogy with Deontay Wilder instead, and Anthony Joshua – his scheduled opponent - went and lost to Oleksandr Usyk. Still, the “Clash on the Dunes” between Joshua and Ruiz in Diriyah was a huge event, too.

Indian Premier League, 2014, UAE

The attendances for this season’s IPL when it resumed in UAE might have been meagre, but it was not always that way. Back in 2014, when the league briefly relocated from India because of elections at home, 18 of the 20 matches were sold out.

Asia Cup, 2018, UAE

Limited-overs international cricket has rarely been consumed with as much fervour as it was in Sharjah in the 1980s and 1990s. But perhaps the biggest international tournament to come to these shores to date was the Asia Cup three years ago, which was eventually won by India against Bangladesh in the final in Dubai.

Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, annual

The capital provided Formula One with its season climax for the first time in 2009, and it was also the first day-night race in F1. Lewis Hamilton has enjoyed it more than anyone else in the time since, winning five times around the Yas Marina Circuit.

Dubai Rugby Sevens, annual

Dubai has already staged a World Cup before. But the Rugby Sevens World Cup, which came to the city in 2009, was nowhere near as popular as the annual version, traditionally played on National Day weekend. In 2008, the Sevens set a World Series attendance record by attracting 50,000 on both days of the weekend.

Updated: December 06, 2021, 10:32 AM