It was the netball that did it. I sunk, sobbing, onto the sofa, swamped with the realisation that I am perhaps the most anti-social sports person in existence, as my significant other eyed me with triumph, his prophecy unfolding before both our eyes. It was just one in a long line of team sports leagues and events in Dubai that I had signed up for and bailed on at the 11th hour.
Dubai is an ever-more health-conscious place to live, and one of the most popular ways to stay fit and sociable in the city is through banding together with a group of strangers to fight over a ball of some shape or size. There are literally tens of thousands of Dubaians playing together across the emirate every week – but I just can’t bring myself to get involved. It’s not that I don’t like exercise (I’m happy in the gym on my own) or people (within reason), there’s just something about team sports – they make me squirm.
I’d always considered myself above classic Dubai flaky behaviour until the moment I sent that desperately apologetic text before the first netball game of the new season, begging for mercy by way of being dropped from the team. Quite what it is I loathe so much about taking part, I’m not sure. Could it be seeing receptionists by day becoming self-appointed experts on tactics by night? The Hollywood high-school flick-style whooping and high-fiving at every call for a time out? Or simply that I am a joyless, anti-social grump? I suspect a combination of the three, but regardless, I can’t seem to stop signing up. Basketball, netball, football – the list goes on, and my hand goes up. At the time, I wholeheartedly believe I will take part, cheer on my teammates and do my best, but as my first fixture draws closer and weeks turn into days, my giddiness turns to dread.
It wasn’t always like this. Ten years ago, my dedication to captaining the field-hockey team at my secondary school for girls had absolutely nothing to do with team spirit, and an awful lot to do with a love of hitting people with sticks – a practice heartily encouraged by our coach, a woman with a mesmerising command of pitch-side profanity. And there have even been occasions in Dubai where I found myself trundling onto a football pitch. I don’t think I can count that incident though, as had my editor not all-but blackmailed me into it, there’s no doubt I would have hopped on my bike and peddled all the way home before the ref had the chance to blow the first whistle.
But if thousands are playing sports and millions live in the city, I surely can’t be the only one to feel like this? Maybe I’ll reach out to them. Maybe we could form a team.