Connecting Through Sports
Through sports, UAE and US athletes increase cultural understanding, and advance the two countries’ shared values of openness, tolerance and respect for others. These exchanges take place through training programs and international competition. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, the UAE was represented by a team of 13 athletes (the country’s largest squad ever) in six different disciplines. The team included 18-year-old swimmer Nada Al Bedwawi, an NYU Abu Dhabi student who was the UAE’s first female swimmer to compete in the Olympics and was the UAE national team’s flag bearer. Another top UAE athlete, weightlifter Amna Al Haddad, trained extensively in the United States and is recognized as a pioneer in women’s sports.
In 2011, the UAE Women’s National Soccer Team visited the US for a month-long training program with their counterparts on the Philadelphia Independence women’s professional soccer team. By interacting with US players during training sessions and scrimmages, hosting community events and meeting with other community leaders, the UAE team honed their soccer skills while also educating Americans about the Emirates.
Jiu-jitsu offers another example of UAE and US athletes connecting through sports. Los Angeles hosted the first installment of the 2016-2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, the world’s premier jiu-jitsu competition. The Grand Slam features a series of five competitions held in cities around the world, including Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Abu Dhabi and London. Participants compete for awards in several men’s and women’s divisions. The completion attracts top jiu-jitsu talent, including world champion Mackenzie Dern.
In February 2017, UAE Women’s Hockey National Team player Fatima Al Ali visited with the Washington Capitals, the DC-based men’s professional hockey team. Fatima met the players, practiced with the team, and participated in a ceremonial puck drop at one of the team’s games. It provided an opportunity for hockey fans and young players in the US to hear Fatima’s story and learn about hockey in the UAE.