Six major sporting events to look forward to in 2021, here's a list of them below:
Fight Island 3 launches New Year in Abu Dhabi
UFC Fight Island 3 is coming back to Abu Dhabi at the start of 2021, to the delight of mixed martial arts fans around the world. When the UAE capital hosted Fight Island last July it was the first international sporting event of that stature to take place since the coronavirus outbreak.
Safety measures were put in place at Yas Island to ensure the health of the competitors, their teams, volunteers and management staff, and the event proved a massive success.
Fight Island 2 followed in September and October and saw UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov stop Justin Gaethje in the second round to successfully defend his lightweight belt at UFC 254, before retiring in front of the watching worldwide audience.
Dana White and UFC had promised more was to come in Abu Dhabi and they have delivered with announcement that Fight Island 3 will take place on Jan. 16, 20 and 24, when Conor McGregor takes on Dustin Poirier at UFC 257.
The Saudi Cup is back and bigger
Few of those watching Maximum Security romp home to win the inaugural Saudi Cup on Feb. 29, 2020, could have imagined that sporting activities and indeed everyday life would come to a shuddering halt within weeks.
The Saudi Cup is returning for its second edition on Feb. 20, with a total purse of $30.5 million.
Last year’s race, which had a total purse of $20 million, took place at King Abdulaziz Racetrack and had already overtaken the Dubai World Cup as the world’s richest in horse racing. The two-day event also saw the historic participation of female jockeys on Saudi soil for the first time.
It was the first of several competitions in 2020 that would see the participation of female athletes in the Kingdom, including the Women’s Football League across Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, and the Aramco Saudi Ladies International at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City.
Many of the winning female jockeys said the real victory would come when their mere participation was no longer headline news.
Competitive international football returns to the Middle East
Unlike Europe, South America and Africa, Asia did not see competitive international action last year owing to the disruption brought on by the pandemic.
While domestic and continental club competitions eventually returned during the summer of 2020, national teams from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) were reduced to playing a handful of friendly matches.
With the 2023 AFC Asian Cup and 2022 World Cup places still to be decided, fans will be eager to once again unfurl their nations’ flags as meaningful international football returns in March.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular will be hoping for a brighter year after the many upheavals brought on by the managerial changes of 2020.
Euro 2020 kicks off in 2021
2020 was the first even-numbered year in over six decades not to feature a World Cup or a European Championship, with the pandemic bringing all football competitions to a halt.
Euro 2020 will now kick off on June 11. The semi-finals and final, however, are scheduled for Wembley Stadium, so it is hoped that London will be safe and ready to welcome the continent’s best four teams when the time arrives.
And, just like the Tokyo Summer Olympics, questions will be asked in the coming months about the possibility of fans attending.
The Tokyo Olympics back on track
Just how the Olympics will look on July 23 - and exactly how many nations and athletes take part - remains to be seen. But the organizers of the Tokyo games have already said that there is no going back now.
They will need to recover a lot of goodwill if they are to reassure the countries taking part.
The games were originally scheduled for last July and were belatedly pushed back by a year after withdrawals from Australia and Britain, and with many other delegations expressing their fears over safety.
The organizers eventually relented and postponed, but not before attracting much criticism.
The delay will have wreaked havoc on the training programs of many athletes, who would have prepared meticulously over four years to peak just in time for the Olympics.
The hope is that, by the second half of the year, vaccination programs around the world will have been rolled out in adequate numbers to make travel to Japan, and all the safety measures that come with it, a feasible undertaking.
An Olympics without fans will just not be the same.
Formula 1 comes to Saudi Arabia
This November will see Saudi Arabia host its first-ever Formula 1 Grand Prix.
The Jeddah race, on Nov. 5, will be only the second after the Singapore Grand Prix to take place at night, and the third Middle Eastern one after the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi races.
Saudi Arabia has already hosted two Formula E events over the last two years, but this will be an even higher-profile addition to the motorsports calendar around the world, and not just the region.
The timing of the race should hopefully ensure that the driver and constructor championships are still up for grabs.
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