What ‘Fight Is­land’ means for Abu Dhabi

▶ The cap­i­tal is pre­par­ing to host one of the world’s most ex­cit­ing com­bat sport events

The National - News - - OPINION -

Few oc­ca­sions bring peo­ple to­gether the way sport­ing events do. For a world ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the painful bur­den of dis­tance un­der the weight of a pan­demic, a com­ing to­gether of sorts – per­haps not phys­i­cally, but in spirit – is sorely needed.

In­ter­na­tional sport re­turns to the UAE this week­end when UFC Fight Is­land, a two-week mixed mar­tial arts com­pe­ti­tion, be­gins in Abu Dhabi on Sun­day. It marks the first time a high-pro­file ath­letic event is to be held in the Emi­rates since March, when the coro­n­avirus out­break forced al­most all of the ma­jor tour­na­ments and leagues around the world to be called off or post­poned. It also serves as a timely re­minder that, in these im­mensely dif­fi­cult times, the show can go on.

This is not the first event to be held glob­ally since the pan­demic forced a time-out in sport. Fight Is­land, how­ever, is re­ceiv­ing an enor­mous amount of global at­ten­tion for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.

First, it has taken the Depart­ment of Cul­ture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi and the Ul­ti­mate Fight­ing Cham­pi­onship, the world’s lead­ing MMA pro­duc­tion, a mat­ter of mere weeks to put to­gether, at rel­a­tively short no­tice, un­der the chal­leng­ing con­di­tions of the pan­demic.

The event also serves as a state­ment of in­tent, for the or­gan­is­ers and the host na­tion: de­spite the ad­verse im­pact of Covid19 on lives and liveli­hoods, hu­mankind should still be able to en­joy what life has to of­fer, not least one of its most soul-nour­ish­ing pas­times. This in­ten­tion was re­flected in the fact that the UFC an­nounced the con­cept for this com­pe­ti­tion as early as April, when other sports were still grap­pling with the dif­fi­cult ques­tion of when, or even whether, to re­turn to ac­tion.

Fur­ther­more, with one of the UAE’s big­gest strengths be­ing its abil­ity to host high-pro­file sport­ing events, Fight Is­land serves as a sig­nal to the world that the coun­try is once again open for busi­ness, with ap­pro­pri­ate plan­ning and care. Over the past three decades, the Emi­rates has built its rep­u­ta­tion as the pre-em­i­nent des­ti­na­tion for a wide va­ri­ety of in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions, in­clud­ing For­mula One racing, Dubai Rugby Sevens, Test cricket and the Spe­cial Olympics.

The rea­sons for the coun­try’s at­trac­tive­ness in this re­gard are many – in­clud­ing a strong mid­dle class, an ad­van­ta­geous ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion and the ease of do­ing busi­ness. The third fac­tor was par­tic­u­larly cru­cial for the UAE last month when it se­cured the right to host Fight Is­land. In the weeks since, Abu Dhabi has pulled out all the stops, in­volv­ing govern­ment agen­cies, the Abu Dhabi Sports Coun­cil and Eti­had Air­ways in putting to­gether the event to be held on Yas Is­land, the home of the an­nual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix F1 race.

Four months ago, the pan­demic de­liv­ered a knock­down blow against the world of sport. Which is to say that the global sports in­dus­try, val­ued at $471 bil­lion by the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in 2018, sus­tained in­juries that were so de­bil­i­tat­ing that it could not fight the good fight, at least tem­po­rar­ily.

We should wel­come the fact that, even as it gin­gerly re­turns to ac­tion, sport is ready to fight again.

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