Athletics in Dubai

We get the inside track on Dubai’s first open athletics night


Of all the sports that have a following in Dubai, athletics has always been conspicuously absent. Yet this is set to change thanks to local enthusiasts Lisa Campbell and Rob Turner, former track athletes turned PE teachers, who have organised the city’s first open athletics night.

Lisa, who represented English Schools in the 100m discipline, says the dearth of amateur athletics in the city has been down to lack of facilities. ‘In the UK we’d have a track in every district or borough, whereas there are just three or four [400m tracks] in the whole of Dubai, and they’re in schools. This means the public don’t always get access to those facilities.’

The weather is also an important factor – the heat makes athletics all but impossible for half of the year. However, both Lisa and Rob are hoping to take advantage of the cooler months and establish athletics as a weekly fixture in Dubai’s sporting calendar. They will be hosting race nights every Saturday at Dubai American Academy in Barsha, and everyone over the age of 17 is welcome to take part.

People needn’t feel self-conscious about their ability or lack thereof. There are different age categories and athletes will also be matched against those who are similarly speedy. ‘When you register, you have to submit your estimated finish time in certain events. You don’t have to worry about competing against someone who’s a lot faster than you,’ assures Lisa.

She hopes that once the weekly event gains momentum, herself and Rob – who represented Great Britain in the 1,500m – will be able to give participants thorough training.

This, Lisa hopes, will be supported by E-Sports and the UAE Athletics Federation, which plans to send a few of its coaches to watch and lend their expertise.

Everything is now in place for Dubai to have its first fully fledged athletics club – all Lisa needs is to raise awareness among Dubai’s sports community. As well as her sprinting, Lisa also plays rugby, a sport that she says has benefited from her escapades on the track.

However, what appeals most to Lisa about athletics is that the onus is on the individual. ‘The attraction, for me, is that it’s a very individual sport – you don’t have to worry about whether you’ve got the numbers on the day. It’s down to you. I’m hoping that there are people out there who want to play sport, but not necessarily in a team.’

Such people do exist. On the event’s inaugural night, Lisa says 40 people – a ‘modest’ number – took part. Not bad for a first night, though her ambitions are such that she almost sounds disappointed by the turnout.

The same can’t be said of her tone when she recounts the feats of one young runner, Waahid Ally from Emirates International School in Jumeirah, who managed to record a time of 10.72 seconds in the 100m.

‘He was amazing!’ she exclaims. It goes to show that there’s a huge wealth of athletic talent in Dubai just waiting to be unearthed. Once word really gets out, who knows? Maybe the next Usain Bolt is among us.

The Dubai Open Athletics Night takes place every Saturday at 6pm at Dubai American Academy. Dhs30 for the first race, Dhs20 for every subsequent race. For details, email or see the athletics page on

Starter’s orders

Want to get a ahead of the rest in athletics? Lisa Campbell talks us through the perfect sprint start

On your marks…
• Place your feet firmly in the blocks, with one knee on the floor.
• Arch your back into a high bridge.
• Hands should be placed on the firmly on the floor, just behind the line, positioned wider than your shoulder width.
• Focus your eyes one or two metres in front of you. This helps your balance and focus.
• Breathe gently.

Get set…
• Hold your breath to help you keep still.
• Lift your hips slowly to a position just above your shoulders.
• Keep your head in line with your spine, eyes still focused only one or two metres down the track.
• Your front knee should be at 90 degrees, with your back knee at 120 degrees.
• Keep your feet pushed hard back into the blocks.

• When the gun fires, move on the ‘B’ of the ‘bang’ and exhale.
• Drive the arms hard.
• Extend your body, making a straight line from head to spine to extended rear leg.
• Keep your head down.
• Drive the back leg forward.

Common mistakes that will reduce your speed

• Lifting your head too early from the blocks.
• Head bobbing side to side or held back too far (looking up).
• Arms swinging across the body.
• Swerving side to side rather than running in the centre of your lane.
• Clenching your fists too tightly.
• Slowing down at the line.

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