View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Olympics, Sports and UAE Citizenship

Along with most countries the United Arab Emirates is currently engaging in a postmortem of its performance at the Beijing Olympics and such an evaluation is coloured by the hope that Dubai is planning a successful bid to host a forthcoming Games, perhaps for 2020 or 2024.

Even prior to the recent Olympic Games, Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Hasher Al Maktoum, who had been tipped as the country’s most promising medal prospect in Beijing, was critical of UAE government and sporting leaders for their over investment in the country’s football future to the detriment of encouraging an interest and expertise in other sports.

Before pouring millions of dirhams into sporting development it would be good to learn lessons from other countries. Much criticism has been heaped on China for cherry-picking the sports that would reap it the greatest number of medals and give it the chance to gain the top place on the medal tally.

Jamie Cunningham has suggested to The National, that the UAE should aim to develop in sports where there is a tradition and an excellence.

Many Australians are depressed at dropping down the medal tally ladder and, taking out their calculators to discover that they as taxpayers have forked out $16.7 million to win the country 13 gold medals, they are wondering whether this is money well spent.

Even though the UAE may have millions of oil dirhams to throw at developing their sports and attaining medals it is a question of stewardship to ask whether this is the best use of national resources.

The related issue under discussion is the perceived need for the UAE to send a bigger team and thus show to the IOC its broad sporting base and therefore its capability in hosting a future Games. This raises an important question of citizenship. Will the UAE continue to rely on encouraging population growth of its nationals and investing only in Emiratis under the existing citizenship laws or will it transform its citizenship laws?

At the establishment of the UAE people from Africa (especially from the Sudan and Somalia) who were living in these parts had to choose whether they would become Emiratis. The proportion of the total UAE population is currently less than 20% with the rest being here on temporary work visas or sponsored by their spouse or parent. When one looks at the medal winners in the US team one recognizes quickly that most are citizens whose families migrated to America and became citizens. A smaller country such as New Zealand also owes much of its Olympic medals and rugby success to the many Pacific Islanders who have chosen to live there and become fully-fledged citizens.

Many times the fear has been expressed that a move to incorporate other cultures into full UAE citizenship will lead to the dilution of the Emirati culture. However, if it is done well, it will lead to a healthy multiculturalism in which the Emirati culture within it will be prized and valued by all.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Beijing Medals