More than 150,000 people from around the world will travel to Abu Dhabi next month for the Formula 1 season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit. A few hundred million more will get a feel for the action by following the sights and sounds through broadcasts on television, computer and smartphone screens. However, thanks to the launch of the Yas Island Metaverse, they could soon be closer to the personal experience.
Yas Island is one of the landmarks of the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Its 25 square kilometers are home to an abundance of world-class shopping, restaurants and cafes, beach clubs, hotels, leisure and entertainment venues, theme parks and sports facilities. The Metaverse project aims to extend that reach by creating a virtual replica that allows users to experience and engage in the activities, attractions and adventures – like riding the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World or the Getting behind the wheel of a racing car on the F1 track – that residents and visitors have experienced the real version.
This move into the metaverse is being led by the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It brings together a consortium of local partners including Aldar Immobilienentwicklung, twofour54 media production, Miral Destination Management, Abu Dhabi Motorsport and Flash Entertainment. Roblox, The Sandbox and Super League Gaming – which are among the leading platforms in the current Metaverse landscape – will be used to build the digital target. The concerted effort to bring Abu Dhabi into a virtual world takes community far beyond novelty.
The island’s physical world development over the past fifteen years or so has resulted in its inclusion in Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision 2030, the government’s plan to transform the emirate by shifting from a dependency on the oil sector to a focus on knowledge-based knowledge relocates industries. Sport plays a key role under the umbrella of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. But don’t judge the effort by its title alone. The effort is economically and socially reasonable.
Over the past decade, Abu Dhabi has actively developed its position as a global hub for international sporting events. Hosting major sporting events can boost tourism and trade.
Earlier this month, the first-ever NBA games in the Arabian Gulf region were played at the island’s Etihad Arena. A multi-year deal – and a sold-out crowd – means more games are coming to the state-of-the-art, 18,000-seat sports and entertainment venue. The Triathlon World Cup Finals, FIBA 3×3 World Tour Finals and Abu Dhabi Golf Championship Weekend are among the sporting events scheduled for the coming months. The FINA World Swimming Championships were held there last year. And fans of the Ultimate Fighting Championship have known Yas Island since 2010 as a venue for mixed martial arts events – and more recently as the location of “Fight Island,” a project that began when UFC used the location for the “bubble” that enabled its competitions to continue during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But sport also has the power to promote health, inclusion and collaboration between communities of all kinds. This is an important part of Abu Dhabi’s vision. Yas Island is prominent in its scope.
The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, held at the Yas Marina Circuit, is much more than a few hours of car racing. It’s a week-long festival of sports, with all of Yas Island and many public parts of the emirate open to fans and visitors. The nearly 5.5km track can also be configured in five different ways to meet the needs of different motorsport events. Now, the same route opens twice a week, year-round, for people to walk or jog, and cyclists of all ages and abilities to ride a bike for free.
How can sport promote economic growth and social innovation? How can sport be used to have a positive impact on people’s lives and society? How can sport promote cooperation between districts, cities and nations?
A project like the Yas Island Metaverse can provide some helpful answers to these questions, giving people access to parts of our physical and digital worlds that they might otherwise not be able to access. For those so inclined, it’s time to start your engines.