Before you even set foot inside Aktiv Nation, you can’t help but notice the inscription on the wall bearing legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly’s most oft-repeated quote. You know, the one about football being much more important than life and death.
As soon as you meet Osama Siddiqui, the founder of this huge indoor facility in Al Quoz, you can tell he shares a similar passion for sport. It’s a passion that has driven him to build an arena that welcomes anyone, regardless of their background or sporting preference.
“Growing up, a lot of my childhood memories are linked to a sporting event,” he tells Time Out. “I remember the World Cup in 1994. I was living in Saudi Arabia at the time. The Saudi team had qualified for the second round for the first time in their history and all the streets were filled with people waving flags, honking horns. It was just incredible. That always stayed with me.”
After a stint studying in the US, Siddiqui returned to Dubai and almost immediately recognised a gap in the market. It was his dream, then, to create a multi-purpose space for residents who share his love for all things sport.
Set across 26,000 square feet, Aktiv Nation is a game of two halves. On one side of the courtyard you’ll find two mixed-use courts that can host games of basketball, volleyball, football and futsal, badminton and street cricket. Each has hard surface SnapSports flooring, unlike most indoor facilities in the UAE, which offer artificial turf surfaces.
Cross to the other side and there are two individually enclosed cricket pitches that can be used for both individual practise and indoor matches, each with an electric scoreboard so you can see the runs piling up or the wickets tumbling. Next to these there are a pair of beach volleyball courts. Siddiqui admits these were not in the original plans, but is nevertheless delighted they have proved a smash hit, especially with corporate parties.
“It was always at the back of my mind that something was missing [in sports facilities in Dubai],” he says. “A lot of them feel like just a space; like you could be in any warehouse in the world, but an immense amount of thought has gone into every last detail of our facility to ensure everybody is getting the best indoor sports experience in Dubai, and in the UAE.”
Perhaps you could also say it was destiny that has led Siddiqui to create Aktiv Nation, the funding for which having partly come from a redundancy package he accepted.
When one door closes, another opens you might believe. And Siddiqui is opening Aktiv Nation’s doors to the blue-collar fraternity with free, monthly cricket tournaments for 70 to 100 players that he hopes a sponsor will back to make them a weekly event.
“The sense of community is very important for us,” he says. “Aktiv Nation is a brand proudly created in the UAE and that’s all part of why we want to give something back. The blue-collar workers built this city but they never got chance to enjoy the city they built. This is a world-class facility and they should get to enjoy it as well.”
Aktiv Nation already runs successful leagues and the owner wants to attract corporate types for whom he will run end-to-end competitions, providing the kit, trophies and websites with updated results and stats that will ensure the office banter is never far away on a Sunday morning.
Siddiqui also hopes to throw the floor open to more niche pastimes such as archery tag, bubble football and even inflatable arcade games.
Siddiqui’s ethos is clear, when it comes to sport, no-one should feel left out.
“Aktiv Nation is not just a place to play, it’s a symbol of the power and philosophy of sport. I believe in those very strongly,” he says. “Sport has the power to bring people together, to break down barriers, while the philosophy of sport embodies respect, discipline, fairness and creativity, which are not only the qualities of a good athlete but also of a good person.”
Mr Shankly, we feel, would have agreed. Open daily 9am-11pm. 10th St, Al Quoz, www.aktivnation.com (04 328 4779).Aktiv Nation