The sporting landscape of the Middle East

Posted by in Elite Performance, Middle East, Stewart King

From Egypt to the Emirates, the Middle East is a region where sport is undergoing significant change and where opportunity is expanding, says Stewart King, a specialist in elite performance at SRi.

The Middle East can be an attractive location for professionals interested in bringing about great change. Sporting clubs and bodies across the region have ambitious plans, and the ability for individuals to work in an environment where they can develop a legacy is genuinely exciting.

I recently travelled to the Middle East to meet key figures in the sports industry, where I learned more about an industry experiencing increasing growth and investment.

Al Jazira FC - UAE

Al Jazira FC – UAE

Winning is everything

Football, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the most popular sport to both play and watch, but it remains fractured. At club level, the focus is primarily (if not solely) on first team wins, with little emphasis on driving commercial growth. Wage bills are high with clubs preferring to sign “star players” to win games rather than developing players – the likes of Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Xavi or Asamoah Gyan perhaps spring to mind.

Marginal gains through sport science, analytics and sports medicine practices do not sit high on the agenda. However, with more sporting and business talent from across the world now taking up employment within the region, with SRi playing it’s part in the evolution, it’s only a matter of time before this changes.

Maximising international brand presence

Due to the small population of the region, the potential fan base for international football clubs does not offer the same potential of other regions, which has, thus far limited their activity as eyes are drawn to high-populace regions such as Asia.

The Middle East is, however, a key destination for warm weather training camps, recognising that attracting major foreign clubs, even for short periods of time, is good for the region’s profile. International clubs are offered residency free of charge at seven star sports complexes, complete with stadia and state of the art training facilities.

Raising the profile

There are some fascinating differences in the strategies that different Middle Eastern countries are employing in order to increase their sporting profile.

Dubai is focused on hosting events. The emirate’s annual sports calendar alone currently consists of seven major international sporting events, 46 international and regional events, 90+ local Dubai sports events, as well as many sports-related conferences and exhibitions. With Expo 2020 also on the horizon, sports federations are looking to harness the fact that hundreds of thousands of international visitors will be arriving in the city, leveraging events to get more people interested in sport. On top of this, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will also be a big boost for Dubai, who will capitalise on its reputation as a fun, tourist friendly city with a glamourous lifestyle and nightlife, only 40 minutes’ flight away.

Aspire Academy - Qatar

Aspire Academy – Qatar

Qatar, knowing that it cannot compete with Dubai in the same space, is focusing on positioning itself as a global leader in the elite performance sector. Aspire Academy, which opened in 2004, is one of the world’s leading multi-sport academies, offering state of the art training facilities. Qatar is also the home of Aspetar, a leading sports medicine centre and hospital whose expertise attract rehabbing athletes from all over the world.

Saudi Arabia, the most populous of the Middle Eastern countries, is making significant investment into developing its sporting infrastructure. As a nation, it wants to compete for medals at international games and recognises that financial backing needs to be directed towards driving up participation to enable success at the elite level. This involves a shift of cultural attitudes towards sport and exercise. At the elite level, they are bringing in expertise from around the world to develop both local athletes and coaches.

Candidates with events, operations, facilities, and elite performance experience, who have the ability to translate this knowledge into a different environment, accounting for different cultural factors, will be in great demand. However, if they want to work in this fascinating region they need to be prepared to work in a more unstructured environment than they are probably used to – which should be viewed as an exciting opportunity to mark out their own path.

Stewart King is a Senior Consultant for the Elite Performance team at SRi. To learn more about the opportunities in the Middle East and any of the points mentioned in the blog, please contact