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The fat issue

The fat issue

When will the GCC realize that buying Olympic athletes and football clubs won’t help curb the region’s growing obesity problem?

October 12, 2008 12:27 by

Sporting chance

Perceptions of class and prestige in luxury-driven countries, such as the UAE, are difficult to reverse. It is no secret that the sudden wealth of Gulf Arabs has led many to rely on maids, cooks, drivers, private tutors and others to help with everyday, mundane tasks. Opulence and minimal labor epitomize the ultimate form of luxurious living. Not surprisingly, perceptions of luxury in the Gulf are entirely at odds with the harsh realities of the region’s past.

According to the Financial Times, the UAE’s Ministry of Health is helping to educate the public about the importance of exercise and the need to cut down on processed foods. With good reason too: not only will obesity cost local governments a hefty sum in healthcare costs ($60 billion by 2025, according to McKinsey & Company), but it will also make the governments’ drives to educate, promote and empower their citizens futile. What good is an educated and empowered population if the majority suffers from obesity-related diseases?

Indeed, encouraging the local population to participate in sports is an important part of the fight against obesity. The Times in the UK reports that one of the reasons why Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought Manchester City is to encourage Emiratis to play football, and to one day see Emiratis playing in the Premier League. Clearly, it is too early to judge if his acquisition will result in an increase in children’s participation in football.

However, the purchase has proven two definitive truths: firstly, that hydrocarbon wealth can buy you almost anything, especially publicity; the photos of Sulaiman al-Fahim (Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s front man and the architect of the Manchester City deal) partying with A-listers such as Kim Kardashian in Las Vegas is putting an even brighter light on Abu Dhabi than the emirate expected. Secondly, the region is unlikely to achieve the kind of sporting successes they are aiming for with their own, homegrown talents.

This leads to a simple truth not universally accepted across the GCC. Like the Louvre name and the perceived modernity, the acquisitions of award winning athletes and high profile clubs by GCC governments and businessmen cannot legitimately buy sports culture. Although Abu Dhabi may own a high profile British team and Bahrain hosts one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events, buying big names and hosting high-profile events does not necessarily translate into a population keen on participating in sports; especially an obese one.


First published in Trends magazine


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