Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor
His Highness UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s death on Friday sparked an outpouring of grief as sports federations and clubs paid rich tributes.
Under the leadership of Sheikh Khalifa UAE sports saw a major transformation at all levels.
In 2016, the late president approved a landmark law allowing all UAE residents to participate in all official sports competitions held in the country regardless of their nationality.
The federal law, which came as per the directives of Sheikh Khalifa, translated the UAE government’s keenness to engage all residents in community activities into yet a new testament to the genuine principles and values of tolerance and cultural diversity embraced by the country.
The law applies to children of Emirati mothers, UAE passport holders, and all those born in the UAE, along with residents of all nationalities.
The International Handball Federation (IHF) posted a message on their website expressing sadness over the death of Sheikh Khalifa.
“The International Handball Federation has learned of the passing of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa at age 73 after a long period of illness.
“An avid sports fan, often seen attending different events, Sheikh Khalifa had a strong hand in developing sports in the UAE, including handball.
“On behalf of the IHF and the entire handball family, Dr Hassan Moustafa conveys the most sincere condolences to the grief-stricken UAE nation at this difficult moment,” the federation said in a statement.
Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Presidential Affairs, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Emirates Racing Authority, mourned the death of the president.
In a tweet on his official Twitter account, Sheikh Mansour said, “Today, we bid farewell to an inspirational leader and President, a brother and a teacher, who led the nation with dedication, laid down the foundation of the UAE’s renaissance, and was a role model of morality, kindness, and giving. I pray to Allah Almighty to grant Khalifa Bin Zayed eternal peace.”
Sheikh Mansoor Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council, also condoled the death of the late president.
“May Allah bestow his mercy on the soul of our nation’s father, Sheikh Khalifa. We ask Allah to grant him paradise and to grant us all patience and solace in these sad times. To Allah we all shall return,” Sheikh Mansoor tweeted on his official account.
Floyd Mayweather’s exhibition fight against Don Moore — which was due to take place on the famous helipad at the top of the 700ft Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai on Saturday — has been postponed following the death of Sheikh Khalifa.
Mayweather mourned Sheikh Khalifa’s death in an Instagram post early Friday.
“Sending my condolences to the entire UAE. RIP Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed,” he posted.
Boxing manager Sarah Fina, who was scheduled to fight on the undercard, posted: ‘Entire show cancelled! The President of the UAE died today!”
Dibba Al Hisn Sports and Cultural Club and Sharjah Sports Council also mourned the death of Sheikh Khalifa.
The Dubai Scarlet Hockey Club members expressed shock over the demise of the UAE president and extended their sincere condolences and sympathy to the Al Nahyan family.
Faizan Iqbal Muhammad Iqbal Sajjad, founder of the Dubai Scarlet Hockey Club, said that he was “shocked and stunned”.
“I literally don’t know how to sum up this situation. We have lost one of the greatest supporters of sports in the UAE. My condolences go out to his family.”
Paying rich tributes to Sheikh Khalifa, Faizan said: “Besides his invaluable contribution to UAE sports, Sheikh Khalifa will always be remembered for a resolution which marked a milestone in UAE sports history as it permitted Emirati women married to foreigners and expatriates to join local clubs and represent the national teams in various sports.
“The move encouraged more athletes to participate in different sports, and it was an ideal harmony with the prudent vision of the country’s wise leadership, and the UAE strategy to ensure sustainability through sports and create a sports-friendly environment,” he added.