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Beijing Olympics: Has UAE caught the fever?

Beijing Olympics: Has UAE caught the fever?

With the National Olympic Committee's website still waiting for the 2004 Athens Games, and the UAE team having just one sponsor, it doesn't look like anyone cares.

August 10, 2008 9:00 by

Upcoming Olympics events – Athens 2004 and Torino 2006. This is what greets you on the homepage of the UAE National Olympics Committee’s (NOC)’s website. The latest press release on the site announces that the committee’s board of directors convened their meeting on Monday 24 February 2003.

The fact that UAE has a team of eight contenders at the Beijing Olympics, the largest ever from the country, doesn’t feature on the site. Nor does the fact that the NOC recently announced plans to give away bonuses of $272,000 to gold medal winners, around $200,000 to silver winners, and $136,000 to third place bronze winners.

But while the NOC is pumping out large bonuses (and failing to mention any in its site), the team has been unsuccessful in attracting too many backers. While brands across the world have been competing to woo Chinese consumers, Hydra Properties, an Abu Dhabi-based international developer, is the sole sponsor of the UAE candidates competing in Beijing.

With local airlines like Emirates and Etihad racing to sponsor sports event across the world (Emirates sponsors the Arsenal football club, and Etihad has a sponsorship deal with F1), it does seem surprising that none of them came forward to pin their names to an event which is expected to have a viewership of four billion.

But again, observers might wonder how strong the team is? Among the eight athletes, the most promising is shooter Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Hasher Al Maktoum, who won the UAE’s only Olympic gold medal at 2004 Athens Olympics. Sheikha Maitha, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed who carried the UAE flag at Beijing, won a silver at the 2006 Asian Games karate event, and will be participating in taekwondo this year. Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum, a three time Olympics contender, will be competing at skeet shooting.

Who’s watching?

While the Chinese consulate has said that it is issuing more visas that usual, it added that the number of visas issued to Emiratis was negligible.

The government is more hopeful of TV audiences. Dubai and Abu Dhabi Sports Channels recently announced that they would broadcast the Olympic Games free of charge.

Interestingly, a senior cardiologist has warned television viewers in the UAE to try to stay calm during the Olympics because they were particularly vulnerable to suffering heart attacks while watching sports.

While Dubai did express an interest in hosting the 2016 Olympics, it did not submit a bid by the deadline last year. Recent reports say the country is again contemplating a bid in the future. The CEO of the Dubai Event Management Corporation recently said “Dubai seems to be the most suitable place to host the Olympics.”

If that is indeed the case, the country has more than just the heat to worry about.

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