Middle East Center for Reporting an Analysis
Israel - UAE sports initiatives helped lay groundwork for relations
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
For years Gulf states were able to show some opening to Israel through sport, which transcends politics.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
In October 2018 Israel's Minister of Culture and Sport visited the UAE, one of the early public indications that relations were not only improving. It would be two years before full normalization, but her visit to the Shekh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi was a game change. It came on the heels of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to Oman. The use of sport to build bridges has included numerous initiatives. In May 2018, for instance, bicyclists from the Gulf came to Israel.
“This mosque has a message of brotherhood and peace,” Regev wrote in the visitor’s book, in Hebrew. “I wish a good life and peace for all.” In February 2020 AFP noted that "an Israeli cycling team raced through Dubai on Sunday, taking part in the UAE Tour for the first time in the latest overture between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations." This was an important event and it received international coverage. In addition news emerged that an Emirati businessperson would invest in Israel's Beitar soccer team. Reports indicate that sport has played and will continue to be an essential part of Gulf - Israel ties. DW reported that "Karen Young, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute specializing in the Gulf states told DW that while there could be resistance, she's optimistic as to the prospects of Israelis and Emiratis working together. 'The only way to get over such superstitions is meeting and talking to each other, and that'll now start happening.' One area where cooperation does seem more likely between individuals and institutions from both countries is sports, and in particular football."