How to get a job in the UAE’s booming sports industry

Sport is by nature competitive – and that certainly applies to those looking for a job in the industry, writes Ben Flanagan.

But the chance of winning gold in the employment stakes is looking a little brighter in the Arabian Gulf, where the rapid growth in sporting facilities and high-profile events is sparking a recruitment boom in health and fitness, experts say.

There are opportunities in two main areas: Fitness, which includes roles like personal training and coaching, and sports-management positions such as marketing and sales.

Recruitment agencies point to the thriving sports market of Dubai as being particularly attractive to jobseekers. The emirate is home to more than 400 gyms and 300 annual sporting events – and has a “significant” workforce to match, according to a Deloitte report published in November.

The report found that there are the equivalent of 14,500 full-time employees in Dubai’s core sports industry – a figure that would be even higher were those in ancillary businesses included.

Perhaps surprisingly, Dubai’s sport industry constitutes about 0.6 percent of the emirate’s overall workforce – a far higher proportion than in most key European countries, including France and Italy, the report found.

“Dubai has got about the same proportion as somewhere like the UK, which I guess to some people would be surprising, because the UK obviously has a very well-developed, mature sport sector,” Dan Jones, the lead partner of the Sports Business Group at Deloitte, told Benchmark.

Read the experts Top 5 tips for landing that sports job here

Stewart King, a London-based senior consultant at SRi – an executive search firm specialising in sports, media and entertainment – said the number of sports opportunities in the Middle East has “expanded pretty rapidly in the last few years”.

There has been a surge in activity in both commercial appointments – for roles such as sales directors and sports chief executives – and those closer to the action, such as coaches and performance directors, he added.

“The sporting landscape in the Middle East is looking to develop across the piece,” said Mr King. “It’s about developing the broader infrastructure as opposed to just bringing in a superstar name as a coach. It’s about putting the right back-room staff in place.”

Mr King said his firm is seeing an increase in the number of regional sports vacancies of about 50 percent a year, although that’s not necessarily indicative of the overall market, he pointed out.

Though the different working environment in the Middle East can be a challenge to some expat candidates, Mr King said the region poses an exciting opportunity for professionals interested in being part of the vanguard of a fledgling sports industry.

“They’re in an environment where they can really leave a legacy and develop something quite exciting,” he said.

Expats working in a country like the UAE could earn about 40 percent more than in the UK, although that varies by role, Mr King said.

Max Williamson, performance director at Career Sport Fitness Academy, which runs training courses for fitness professionals in the UK, Middle East and India, says he too has noticed an increase in the number of sports jobs in the UAE.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” he said, attributing the increase to the “positive influence” of big events being held in the region, such as the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, as well as residents’ desire to be fitter and healthier.

“Health and fitness is becoming more important in the whole region, due in no small part to the obesity and diabetes problems, which the governments are very aware of,” he said.

The Career Sport Fitness Academy runs UK-standard courses that form the basic qualifications for professional fitness trainers. It also has courses in areas including nutrition, sports massage, and interventions for obesity and diabetes.

Mr Williamson said the introduction in 2013 of REPs UAE – a public register that ensures UAE fitness trainers are qualified and working to agreed industry standards – has boosted business for the academy, which now has about 300 UAE students a year.

Graduates benefit from a growing range of job opportunities at venues such as private gyms, as well as health and fitness facilities in hotels and private clubs, Mr Williamson said.

Salaries “compare favourably” to the UK market, he added. An experienced fitness instructor employed by a UAE hotel can earn about £25,000 to £35,000 (Dh140k to Dh200k) a year, tax-free, with accommodation, transport and food likely provided on top of that, Mr Williamson said.

“If you’re good enough, you’ve got the experience and you can do the job, it’s a very attractive salary in the Middle East,” he said.

Read the December edition of Benchmark Middle East here

But salaries for fitness instructors can sometimes depend on where an employee is from, said Mr Williamson. While an expat from a country like the UK, Australia or South Africa can expect up to Dh200k a year, those from some Asian countries are often paid less, he pointed out.

So while there are more and more job opportunities in the Gulf sports market it isn’t, sadly, a level playing field for all.

Sports employees as share of national workforce

UK          0.61

Dubai    0.60

Greece  0.45

Germany 0.39

Ireland  0.37

France  0.37

Italy 0.33

Netherlands 0.28

Belgium 0.24

Sweden 0.19

Denmark 0.15

Spain 0.02

Portugal 0.02

SOURCE: ‘The Economic Impact of Sport in Dubai’ (Deloitte, November 2015)