The success of last week’s Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, billed as the world’s most glamorous triathlon, served as another reminder of the appeal of mass participation sports events in the Middle East.
2014 marked the fifth anniversary of an event which has grown in size and prestige each year. This year for the first time the event was a sell out with over 2,400 participants taking to the crystal-clear waters and scenic roads of Abu Dhabi, an increase on the previous record mark of 2,000 set in 2013.
And it’s not just the world’s elite triathletes, like Olympic Champion Alistair Brownlee, who have been drawn to the event in the UAE capital. Amateur athletes of all ages, experience and nationalities make up with vast bulk of the race field, across the three core distances – Sprint, Short Course and Long Course. While for the first time in 2014 the majority of participants came from outside the UAE, with eager amateurs travelling to Abu Dhabi to compete from across the GCC region and beyond.
Such an impressive growth in numbers and diversity of participant is a clear indication of the appetite for mass participation events across the region. And the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon is now one of many mass participation events successfully marketing themselves to both local and expat audiences.
December 2013 saw the inaugural Colour Run take place in the Middle East with the unique 5km concept taking place at the Dubai Autodrome. A further UAE edition will take place in Abu Dhabi later this month. Both have attracted the support of Abu Dhabi health insurer Daman as headline sponsor
Meanwhile a host of established events continue to grow in popularity across the region including the Dolphin Energy Doha Dash, Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, ADNIC Yas Run, Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge and TriYAS to name but a few. Perhaps one of the best indicators of the interest in mass participation fitness are Yas Marina Circuit’s weekly TrainYAS and GoYAS training evenings which every week see thousands of enthusiastic amateurs take to the Formula 1 circuit to run, walk and cycle for free.
Why such popularity in the Middle East? Whilst the interest in mass participation events is on the rise globally, it is arguably most prominent in the Middle East. A relatively small and transient population is clearly eager for activities to fill their time, whilst the ever-growing focus on addressing low mobility, a relatively sedentary lifestyle and the associated health issues such as diabetes, is clearly a major factor.
For event organisers and promoters the message is clear and the opportunity large. Residents of the Middle East show no sign of losing their interest in ‘having a go’, and there are undoubtedly still many markets across the GCC in which few events take place. So long as organisers continue to offer fresh and innovative new concepts at low cost to the consumer there will be an audience willing to sign up. So get involved and get active before you get left behind!