5 minutes with Ben Faber

Meet our Regional Director, Middle East

Describe your career in 5 words

From London to the sandpit.
 
It has been a busy few months for sport in the Middle East, particularly with the recent launch of the UAE T20x. What do you hope the new tournament will bring to the region?

Cricket is the second most popular sport in the UAE, but despite plenty of investment in sport across the board, cricket is not as well funded as other sports here. We have seen over the past decade that there is a huge audience for cricket in the UAE, with Pakistan playing their ‘home’ fixtures in the UAE, IPL matches taking place, and a variety of other limited overs competitions, but these have all been internationally-owned competitions which have had limited commercial value to UAE cricket. Now, for the first time, the UAE will have its own national cricketing asset – a tournament owned by the Emirates Cricket Board - that will allow the national federation to reinvest in the grassroots, infrastructure and future of the game in the UAE. T20x has already attracted a lot of interest from potential franchisees and sponsors, and we are working with the tournament promoter and the Emirates Cricket Board to put together a marketing strategy that can help to make the new event a success.
 

Next year will also see the world’s largest sport and humanitarian event, the Special Olympics World Games, arrive in Abu Dhabi. What is the significance of an event like this being held in Abu Dhabi? How have the CSM Middle East team been gearing for it?

The significance is enormous, not just for the UAE but for the whole of the Middle East region. The Special Olympics is a global movement that is 50 years old this year. It has achieved extraordinary success in improving understanding and promoting inclusivity of people around with world with intellectual disability. Despite that, intellectual disability is still an issue that, in many parts of the world, is misunderstood or worse, swept under the carpet. To their credit, the UAE leadership some time ago realised there was a need to change attitudes, behaviours and public policy towards disability, and have put in place a variety of new laws and programmes to address those challenges.
 

Hosting the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi next March is a big milestone in that public policy agenda, and an opportunity to shine a light on intellectual disability across the whole of the region. Over 7,000 athletes with intellectual disability from 177 countries will be joined in Abu Dhabi by over 3,000 coaches, 20,000 volunteers and half a million spectators for seven days of Games at nine different live venue sites across the UAE. It is a mammoth operational and promotional undertaking for the UAE, and it is a project that we have been at the heart of for over a year. In March this year, the Middle East & North Africa Special Olympics Regional Games took place in Abu Dhabi, effectively a test event for the World Games next March, with over 1,500 athletes taking part, and since August 2017, Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 has been a client of ours.
 
In that time we have been working with the LOC across a broad scope of work including the delivery of their country-wide promotional events programme, building their global Ambassador programme,  delivering the international PR campaign, organising the official Torch Relay, and finally overseeing all of the Games-time operations at three of the main venues.


Looking a little further down the line, with the 2022 FIFA World Cup being hosted in Qatar; what kind of impact has this had on the business of football in the Middle East and what should we expect in the four years leading up to the tournament?

Football is, by a long way, the most popular sport in the Middle East, and over the past decade it has also been identified as a huge commercial opportunity for both the private and public sectors. Over the last ten years the likes of Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, First Abu Dhabi Bank, Etisalat, Du and many other regional brands have secured major deals with the biggest international rights holders in the sport. At the same time, regional governments have taken ownership stakes in clubs like Manchester City and Paris St Germain, and have long been working hard to bid for major tournaments such as the FIFA Club World Cup, AFC Asian Cup, and of course most notably the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

All of this has made Gulf countries and businesses major stakeholders in the beautiful game. It has helped put countries on the international sporting map, and even played a part in supporting their geopolitical agendas. For all of these reasons football will always be a big focus for us in the region. We have been at the heart of FIFA Club World Cups, AFC Asian Cups, sponsorship activation programmes, and we even brought Real Madrid to play AC Milan in Dubai in 2013. As we approach 2022 we expect to continue to focus on this area, which is why we have partnered with YouGov to create an annual survey of football fans in the region to better understand the impact that all this activity is having on their perceptions of the sport and the business of the sport. The results of this year’s survey of over 1000 football fans will be released in the next couple of weeks and show, amongst other things, that 7 in 10 fans feel more positive about brands that sponsor major football competitions, and that regional domestic leagues and competitions still lag some way behind international and European competitions in popularity.

When not at work, where might we find you?

Camping in the sand dunes or BBQing on the beach with my kids.