UAE is maybe, at least in a formal sense, a country with a short history since it was only founded in 1971. But its football history is deep and important for the country’s political ambitions. This sport is one of the main pillars of its influence in the region and the World, so it is not surprising that the country was not modest when it came to investing in the game.
And the results followed. Football is not only the most popular sport in the UAE today, but is on the way to becoming a game that will bring more pride to the local football fans than ever before.
The United Arab Emirates is a very young country. It was established in 1971, after turbulent negotiations, first with the British, who decided to leave the region, and then among the seven Trucial Sheikhdoms who on the 2nd December 1971 proclaimed a union called the United Arab Emirates.
Football played an important role in the new state from the very beginning. This is evident in the fact that such a young state managed to get its national team to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 1990, only 19 years after the state and its Football Association were established.
Such a quick success of the sport in the UAE was the result of the country’s youth programs dedicated to the promotion of the sport, as well as to a lot of investing in the game: the support of the leadership of the UAE was practically limitless.
Football is the most important and the most popular sport in the UAE – the investments made paid off, and the national team had a lot of success in the last 20 years.
In 2005, the UAE team won the Kirin Cup, while in 2013, they won the Arabian Gulf Cup held in Riffa. Also, in 2009, the UAE U-16 national team qualified for the Youth World Cup. In the same year, the UAE U-19 team qualified for the World Cup Finals in Egypt.
In addition to that, in 2003, the UAE hosted the FIFA U-20 World Cup. All of this is not surprising if we know that, for example, in 2005, Dubai Holding provided the national team with the US $5.45 million.
But, as Abdulrahman Mohammed, the captain of the UAE team at the 1990 World Cup once explained, football is not just a game in the country, it is one of the pillars of its soft power: “It serves to promote cooperation and friendship among countries and peoples. Such importance is what encouraged the UAE leadership to passionately support its athletes and coaches by establishing facilities to help develop their skills and achieve their ambitions.”
UAE does not focus solely on the national football team. Al Nasr Football Club is older than the state itself. It was founded in 1945 in Dubai and is the first football club founded in the UAE territory. In 2014, it won the GCC Champions League.
At the moment. Al Nasr is the sixth-best ranking UAE football club. The other five include Al-Ain FC, Al-Ahil, Al-Jazira, Al Wahda, and Sharjah.
It is currently being reported that there are also ongoing plans to improve the quality of club football in the country. One of the strategies to do so is for the clubs based in the Emirates to buy some of the best foreign players. For example, several UAE clubs, among them Al-Nasr, previously showed an interest in Tottenham’s player Moussa Sissoko.
One of the new ways in which the UAE is developing this sport is the special attention they give to women’s football.
The UAE women’s team is very ambitious, currently at a training camp and preparing for the qualifying stages of the 2022 Women’s Asia Cup. The UAE team’s coach Houriya Al Taheri is leaving no stone unturned as they prepare to face the Maldives in a friendly match.
So, even though the UAE is still a very conservative and strict country, a decision was made to make football more popular among women as well.
There are also other signs of changing times in the UAE connected to football’s popularity – the rise of locals wagering for favorite teams. Even with all the strict laws (they are restrained from entering a casino or wagers of any kind), residents of the UAE are willingly finding a way to bet on their favorites online. As we can learn on ArabianBetting, an in-depth guide on how to bet on sports in the UAE, as easy as with a simple VPN and an anonymous banking method, punters can make sure to support their teams across the whole UAE Pro League or even international leagues.
The importance of the place that football occupies in the UAE is not only shown in the investments that the state made in the sport, or of its importance for the country’s foreign influence and the image it wants to project, but also in the fact that we can detect the changing times in the way UAE approaches it.
One of the best signs of changing times in the UAE can be seen in the successes and popularity of its female national football team.