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Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum: A silent patron of football, heritage sport

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The larger-than-life stature of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, as an owner and promoter of horseracing often tended to overshadow his interest and passion in other sporting disciplines closer to the Emirati hearts – football and sailing.

When Al Nasr Club, located in Oud Metha, ended their 25-year-old drought of a domestic title by clinching the Arabian Gulf Cup in 2015 – their President Sheikh Hamdan was one of the proudest officials. He invited the squad and support staff to his palace for a lavish get-together and the footballers were suitably rewarded.

An extremely hands-on President for someone with so much of responsibility on his shoulders, Sheikh Hamdan followed the fortunes of the club on the playing arena closely and spared no efforts to help the team’s search for silverware. A prime example was when, in 2013, he gave the nod to hire Sven Goran-Eriksson, former England manager and one of the most expensive coaches in the business, as their technical director.


A series of big names, including Italy’s World Cup winner Walter Zenga followed over the years — while Hamdan also appreciated the need of foreign players to boost his team’s fortunes. However, many insiders of the club recalled that he placed a premium on performance and accountability and would question the club management if the results were not forthcoming.

Interestingly, he was also a big backer in encouraging local talent and increasing their salaries — a particular season saw them hiring upto 15-18 domestic players. 

Only in June last year, Hamdan issued a decision restructuring the board of Al Nasr whereby the board is now being chaired by Abdul Rahman Obaid Abu Al Shawarib while Tariq Yousif Al Janahi is the deputy chairman. The board members include Abdul Rahman Mohammed Abdullah Al Khaja, Juma Saeed Mohammed Al Kaabi, Adil Mohammed Shakeri, Ali Hassan Al Mutawa, Saeed Ahmed Saeed Al Marri. The new board will serve for a renewable tenure of three years.

He also used to be a frequent visitor at the Al Nasr Club Indoor Sports Hall to witness finals of other events like basketball and karate.

Al Ghaffal sailing race

The other thing close to his heart was, of course, the famed Al Ghaffal sailing race — of which he was the patron and followed the race closely since its inception in 1991. It’s a unique sailing event where every crew member in the race must be an Emirati — which makes it a truly special event.

The traditional dhow dates back to the days of pearl diving, once a main industry in the Arabian Gulf. Many Emirati families trace their roots to the pearl trade, having ancestors who were divers, dhow captains, or pearl merchants. The race was established in honour of these divers, who played an integral part in the development of Dubai as an international trading port, allowing younger generations to keep the skills and traditions alive while paying homage to their forefathers.

The route shows off some of the most impressive parts of the Dubai coastline. Starting at Sir Bu Nair Island, the race heads east for 23 nautical miles to a mandatory checkpoint at Moon Island, before turning southeast to the finish line at the Burj Al Arab hotel. This happens to be the same route taken by pearl divers returning from long trips at sea. The term Al Gaffal translates from Arabic as “the return.”

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