Abu Dhabi's best sports teams and leagues

Rugby, netball, ice hockey, volleyball and more sports to try in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi's best sports teams and leagues

We don’t do as much exercise as we should. It’s a common problem in the emirate, thanks to the climate and general lifestyle habits of the city’s residents. Sure there’s the gym, but if you find the gym boring or intimidating then you can really struggle with staying healthy here as most people’s daily patterns don’t involve much walking, hill climbing or cycling, and most of the working day takes place at an office desk. The vast majority of Abu Dhabi residents will drive or get a taxi to the office, sit at their desks all day, and drive home before hitting the bars and restaurants (or the sofa) in the evening.

That’s why team sports play such an important role in the capital. If lifting weights in the gym or pounding the streets on a 10km run isn’t your thing, then getting involved in a team sport is your best bet for staying healthy. Indulgence is a trait that is popular in the UAE, but it is important to balance this out with some variety of activity that is going to keep your heart rate up for an extended period of time.

Of course, there’s more to getting outside and throwing or kicking a ball around than just improving your fitness. Team sports are not only fun, they introduce you to new people and they will ignite your competitive side.

And the good news is that Abu Dhabi is the perfect place to actually get out and play some sport. The weather is good to play outside in the evenings nine months of the year and there are some excellent indoor and outdoor facilities (both artificial and grass) to play on. There are also plenty of teams and clubs that play sports from all over the world at every level from fun and recreational to serious and competitive. So if you’ve just moved to the UAE and are missing playing the sport you love, or you want to try something completely new, the sport for you is going on somewhere in the city right now.

Check out our favourite, and most unusual, team sports clubs and leagues in the capital.


One of the most popular sports in the capital, there are two Abu Dhabi based clubs that compete against teams all over the UAE. Abu Dhabi Harlequins are the longest running club in the capital, and Abu Dhabi Saracens are quickly gathering a reputation as one of the best clubs in the UAE. Both are well-organised and friendly, welcoming environments for players of all levels, with regular training and matches for the mens 1st XV, 2nd XV, veterans and juniors, and womens 1st XV and rugby sevens team.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins train regularly and play matches at Zayed Sports City. Abu Dhabi Saracens train regularly and play matches at Al Ghazal Golf Club next to Abu Dhabi Airport. For more information visit www.abudhabiquins.com or www.abudhabisaracans.com.


The largest weekly participation sport for women in the city, the Abu Dhabi Netball League is huge, and it offers a chance for past or budding ballers to be competitive and have fun in a social and friendly sports club. There are three leagues of nine where 18 teams currently compete every Tuesday. The action is fast and frenetic, offering everything you could want from a team sport. The majority of players are aged 16-45, but players of all ages and abilities are welcome.
Annual membership Dhs400. League games take place every Tuesday at Zayed Sports City. For more information or to register into the Abu Dhabi Netball League, visit www.abudhabinetballleague.com or email adnetball@gmail.com.

Aussie Rules Football

Unless you come from Down Under, Aussie Rules is probably a new sport to you. Don’t let that put you off though, this exhilarating sport is fast and fun to play. It’s physically demanding but will improve your fitness quickly – if you’re a fan of football and/or rugby and fancy giving something new a try, then this is the sport for you. Don’t be concerned if you haven’t played the game before as you’ll pick up the basic skills required to play the game quickly. Make it to the club’s top side and you’ll be playing matches against teams from all over the UAE.
Dhs500 for annual membership and match day kit. Training every Sunday 6.30pm-8pm and every Wednesday 7pm. Zayed Sports City. For more information, visit www.abudhabifalcons.com or email info@abudhabifalcons.com.

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey? In the desert? You’d better believe it. Zayed Sports City’s ice rink is one of the cooler (pun most definitely intended) spots in the capital, and as well as running free sessions for skaters and figure skating classes, wannabe Wayne Gretzkys can get on the ice and bash a puck around to their heart’s content. There are teams, training and practice sessions available for men, women and youths. You can borrow some equipment, but being able to ice skate proficiently is a requirement of joining the club.
Zayed Sports City Ice Rink. For more information on training programmes and teams, visit www.adisc.ae or email icehockey@zsc.ae (02 444 5552).


Another foreign import, softball is one of the most popular sports in the capital. The Abu Dhabi softball league meets twice a week to compete in two leagues, competitive and recreational. The league is currently made up of 13 teams, making this one of the best attended sports in the city. Softball is a sport for all ages and abilities, so if you’re looking to try your hand at something new but aren’t sure what, put this sport at the top of your list.
Competitive league runs every Monday, recreational league runs every Wednesday. Zayed Sports City softball field. Registration of new teams for the current season closed. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/abudhabisoftball or email abudhabisoftball@gmail.com.

Dragon Boat Racing

Water sports are huge in Abu Dhabi, so it’s not surprising that team sports are also popular. The biggest is dragon boat racing, similar to canoeing, but with a boat large enough to house a team of 22 people. There are at least three well attended dragon boat clubs in Abu Dhabi that train weekly and have active social arms as well. If you are looking to improve your fitness in a proper team environment, then consider using the city’s coastal water resources to your benefit as you do it.
Abu Dhabi dragon boat clubs include Capital Dragons (www.capitaldragons.weebly.com), Al Bandar Dragon Boat Club (www.facebook.com/AlBandarDragonBoatTeam) and Desert Dragons (www.desertdragonsad.com). For further information on the rules and regs of the sport, visit www.dubaidragonboat.com.

You play with Duplays

If you’re keen to jump straight into the action, then check out Duplays, the largest recreational sports league organising body in the UAE. It has an Abu Dhabi branch which runs events covering different sports throughout the year for men and women in both gender specific and mixed leagues.

The sports leagues take place across the city, popular ones include seven-a-side football tournaments and pickup basketball leagues. You can register as either a whole team or as individuals – if you don’t have a full team but wish to play in the league then still register and Duplays will assign a team for you. To find out which leagues are starting soon, visit www.duplaysabudhabi.playpass.com. Here are a selection of the leagues running right now to give you a flavour of what’s in store in future weeks (note: it’s too late to sign up for the leagues running now, but if you’re interested in participating get in contact with Duplays admin and they will let you know when the next league starts and how you can register).

Flag American football
It’s the toughest sport on earth (in some people’s eyes) made accessible for those of us who don’t have the stomach (or physical attributes) for the full contact version. Teams of seven compete, aiming to throw and catch the ball down the field whilst wearing special belts with detachable strips attached. The defending team’s job is to prevent the ball from being caught and to ‘tackle’ the opposition to prevent them getting to the end of the field by removing the ‘flags’ of anyone holding the ball. Teams compete in a round-robin league, which is fun but also competitive. Don’t be intimidated though, the majority of players have never played American football or flag football before their first session. Leagues usually run on Saturday evenings 6.30pm-8.30pm and are currently taking place on the artificial pitches at Gems Academy in Khalidiyah.

7-a-side football
Football is the most popular sport in the city, which is evident from the number of kids that can be found playing in the street to how many televisions you’ll see people huddled around whenever the big game is on. There are pitches all over the city (including at Zayed Sports City) that can be hired if you want to kick a ball about with your mates, but for something a little more organised, try the 7-a-side football leagues organised by Duplays. It takes place on a Monday night at GEMS American Academy and teams usually get two games a night. If you haven’t got six soccer-mad mates, you can sign up individually and be placed in a team.

Beach volleyball

Beach volleyball is a serious sport, but it’s also a lot of fun. That’s probably why it’s so popular in Abu Dhabi – the volume of available sand also makes it a pretty obvious choice when it comes to picking your team sport. All you need is a net, a ball and a group of friends, and you’re guaranteed hours of fun on the sand. If you’re looking for competition, Duplays runs a social beach volleyball session every week at Hiltonia Beach Club which encourages people of all ages and abilities to join. Trophies and medals are handed out at the end of the eight-week-long competition for the best team, but it’s having fun that’s the main objective at this team sport activity.
For more information about Duplays activities, or to sign up for any upcoming leagues, visit www.duplaysabudhabi.playpass.com.

On the field

In search of fun, fitness, new friendships and competitive spirit, TOAD heads down to Zayed Sports City to join the Abu Dhabi Harlequins touch rugby league for the evening.

It’s been two years since we retired from full contact rugby, but we still have the itch to get back out there and throw the ball around every once in a while. We’re also concerned about our waistline and general levels of fitness (there’s no way we could get through 80 minutes of contact rugby at the moment), and are keen to expand our social circle, so we dust off our boots and sign up for Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ touch rugby league. The club runs every Tuesday night and is one of the best supported recreational sports leagues in the city.

We know this last statement to be true from the moment we pitch up at Zayed Sports City and take a look across the two rugby pitches next to the main tennis stadium (directly opposite the Zayed Sports City Bowling Alley). There are already four games taking place (two on each half of the two rugby pitches) with another three or four dozen players and spectators dotted around watching the action.

We jog over and make ourselves known to the organisers, who quickly allocate us into a team playing in the next round of fixtures. The first thing we notice when we’re introduced to our teammates is how friendly everyone is, it’s a really mixed group of genders and nationalities and very quickly we’re sharing a laugh and a joke about our busy work lives. It appears as though most people’s main reasons for playing are the same as ours – namely to get away from the stresses and strains of everyday life and just to have a run around outside once a week.

It’s also evident that you don’t need to have any background in contact rugby to enjoy touch. Of our team, only two other players have significant experience in contact rugby; five are veterans of touch rugby with a couple of seasons’ experience, and one is a newbie here for the first time this week without ever having held a rugby ball.

At its simplest, the rules and aims of touch rugby are the same as contact; you score points by getting tries (placing the ball on the ground over the line at the end of the pitch you are attacking) and you do this by moving the ball up the field by running and passing the ball backwards. The job of the defence is to stop you scoring by ‘tackling’ you before you get to the line.

That (and the shape of the ball) is where the similarities stop, however, because we are quickly told that the tactics we’ve been employing playing full contact rugby union for 18 years will not be successful in this game. ‘Don’t try to run round people or through gaps if you think you can see one,’ we’re told. ‘Just run straight at someone and put the ball down as quickly as you can when you get touched.’ We’re obviously going to have to pick it up as we go along.

The first round of games comes to a close (there are three rounds of games an evening, each game is 40 minutes long and teams either play one or two games a week) and we’re up next. The game is played with six players on the pitch per side, with rolling substitutes able to swap onto and off the pitch limitlessly. Each team must have at least one female on the field at any one time.

Before we can get our barings, we’ve kicked off (well, tapped off, there is no kicking allowed in this game) and someone with a ball is running straight at us. We make the touch tackle, at which point the ball is placed on the floor by the player tackled and picked up by another player, who starts running with it. We have to retreat 5m before we make another tackle and so are left helpless as the player with the ball darts away from us. Fortunately, one of our teammates has our back and makes the tackle on our behalf, giving us enough time to get back into position. Our defensive line manages to withstand four more attacks without being penetrated, after six tackles the ball is ‘turned over’, which means it is now out turn to attack.

We run the ball straight up the field to make ground, and have some success. The ball hitting the floor results in a turnover, so we’re keen to avoid making mistakes. Our team makes a couple of breaks but doesn’t come close to scoring – we’re not presenting opportunities to the opposition either.
And then about 10 minutes in it hits us – this sport is physically exhausting. Sprinting forwards and then backpedalling is gruelling.

As the game wears on it’s clear that fitness and having less substitutes than our opponents is going to be our undoing. One lapse of concentration and an opposition player has broken through our defensive line. Our opponents score again shortly after which wraps the match up before
full time.

Hands shaken and congratulations given in good spirits at the final whistle, our captain holds a team-talk and concludes that we should be satisfied by a good performance. We don’t have too long to pat each other on the back, however, because we have another game immediately after to concentrate on.

The second game starts, and now we really are flagging with tiredness. Less than two minutes in and we’ve conceded a try to a girl which counts for two points, so we’re immediately under the cosh. We stage a rally of sorts for the next 38 minutes, but the final score is a resounding 5-2 defeat.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our evening of sporting action in Zayed Sports City. Touch rugby has met all the expectations we had set of the sport, and the two games we have just played has reminded us just why and how much we love playing in team sports. Our team consists of a great bunch of people, so we’ll definitely be returning again next week to have more fun, and hopefully our fitness improves as we play more games.
Registration Dhs350. Abu Dhabi Harlequins Touch Rugby. 7pm-9.30pm every Tuesday. Zayed Sports City. For more information or to register online visit www.abudhabiquins.com.

Let’s Meetup for sports

Another useful tool for quickly getting involved in sports in the capital is to join www.meetup.com, the online forum for clubs, societies and networking groups. Check out the website and you’ll find some really active groups that organise regular recreational sports meet-ups.

Again, football is the most popular sport here, with a number of groups on hand who rent pitches and organise six-a-side, seven-a-side and eight-a-side games every week. There are games running somewhere in the city almost every day and most of these recreational organisations are well supported so you don’t have to worry about sessions being cancelled. There may be a charge to cover the cost of the pitches, but this is minimal, approximately Dhs30 per session.

Other sports that meet regularly via www.meetup.com include basketball and volleyball, and there are also groups that offer a variety of sports every week including the more unusual pursuits, such as bubble football (regular football played with all participants encased in inflatable Zorb-style bubbles.

There are even groups for individual sports, if you’d rather practice in groups than on your own. These include surfing, fitness training and stand up paddle boarding.

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