Broadcaster Graham Clews has been in the UAE for almost two decades and in that time he has interviewed some of the biggest names in sport, and politics. In our latest ‘Sport Industry Insider Meets…’, Clews reflects on the region’s changing sporting landscape and some of his most memorable sporting experiences.
I scored a goal from the halfway line before David Beckham made it popular.
Football was always my first sport as a kid; I remember constantly kicking the ball around out in the back garden, being called in for dinner then going straight back out to the garden again. It was just football all the time. I supported (and still support!) Watford and also played for my school teams. I actually remember scoring a goal from the halfway line about three years before David Beckham did it. No one gave me any credit but I don’t mind!
Broadcasting is in my family’s blood.
My dad was a long time director for the BBC, both my cousins were TV actors in the UK. My uncle and my father won BAFTAs so TV has always been in the blood. I followed them into the industry but first I worked as a radio DJ. That brought me out to the UAE, to do work for Radio 2. Then an opportunity came up at City 7 TV, which sadly no longer exists, and I’ve been focusing on sport ever since. It was all quite fortunate how it panned out; definitely a case of right man, right time, right place
The access to athletes and companies in the UAE is outrageously good.
The UAE is a hugely popular place for sports stars – for competing, for holidaying, for business ventures. You name a sports personality, they will probably have been in the emirates at some point. And if they want to get the word out in English language broadcast media – the options are extremely limited. Aside from us at Dubai Media, there is Chris McHardy and Robbie Greenfield at Dubai Eye and that’s about it. If we didn’t turn up for work, the broadcast message wouldn’t get out there.
Of course it is often in these athletes’ contracts that they must speak to local media but more than that, they are very relaxed out here and happy to speak to us when they are in the UAE. It’s not in the nature of media here – unlike many places in the world – to grill people about their personal lives or rumours. People respond well to that, they loosen up and actually enjoy the interviews.
I’ve interviewed some of the greatest, but Federer tops the list.
Roger is just a brilliant person to interview. I saw him again couple of weeks ago during the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship and he was his usual charming self. He speaks to everyone and gives them all great content. A real gentleman. I feel very lucky that my bucket list is now very small. I’ve interviewed Beckham, Messi, Tiger Woods a couple of times. And most of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team have been out here at some point too!
— Graham Clews (@GrahamClews) February 25, 2019
I met Donald Trump just before he announced his presidential bid.
It was when the Trump International golf course was being built in Dubai. They had just completed nine holes and we were invited to meet ‘a representative from The Trump Organization’. I obviously thought it would be his son, or Ivanka. It turned out to be both of them, but also the man himself. A couple of months later he announced he was running for president and here we are with him in the top job. Amazing really.
I was around him for a few hours and if it is an act, he must be exhausted from permanently acting. He was exactly the same as what you see from President Trump now. Obviously he is full of self-belief and also doesn’t enjoy being challenged. One journalist in the press conference had flown over from America to ask him a question and I remember he did what we’re now accustomed to seeing – just refused to answer. The person was escorted out of the building and it was all very uncomfortable.
He definitely has this way of making you believe what he says. He loves his golf and kept insisting he would bring the Ryder Cup to Dubai. He said it with such conviction but obviously nothing has happened with that. He has so much belief in himself and when you meet him you can see how America got swept up in it. Amusingly, he hit a drive off the tee in his suit – short and hooked left for the record. I’m sure he said it was ‘the perfect drive, the greatest drive’.
The Dubai Sevens is the UAE’s most iconic sporting event.
When I arrived in the UAE, the Dubai Rugby Sevens was by far the country’s biggest sporting occasion and you could argue that it still is. It is a rite of passage for anyone arriving in the UAE – you have to do the Rugby Sevens before you leave. It’s the same brilliant atmosphere and you are guaranteed a great time, regardless of whether you like sport or not. Some people come away having not even really watched the rugby but they will still have had a fantastic time. That’s fine as far as I am concerned – they’ve spent their money and supported the event.
But the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is not far behind.
A bit like the Sevens, they’ve just absolutely nailed the balance between an event for golf nerds and families. The fan village is huge and again, it’s about having a great day out whether you love the sport or not. Also if you go to the practice days before round one, you can go up to pretty much any of the players and they’ll have a photo with you. Just as journalists get more access in the UAE, fans do too. And if you love golf, the field is exceptional – arguably the best outside of the Majors.
It’s been great to see the UAE become a world-class sporting destination.
The Abu Dhabi Sports Council and Dubai Sports Council have really grasped how to use sport as a tourism tool. Whether it’s Sheikh Mansour with Manchester City, or Emirates and their sponsorship of Arsenal – sport is what has put the UAE on the global map. Sport isn’t just a pastime, it has done more to bring tourists here than anything else. If you speak to people about the UAE, they will almost certainly mention the Formula One or the Dubai Desert Classic. These subjects crop up more than finance, oil, entrepreneurship. The country’s leadership have understood this but I think a lot of people in the UAE still haven’t embraced what a powerful promotional tool sport can be.
We need athletes to compete because they want to, not because of money.
It’s great that we have passionate sporting leadership in the UAE and some fantastic events. The problem for me is that with a number of these events, including the Dubai World Cup and now the DP World Championship too, their selling point is their cheque. ‘The biggest prize in horse racing’ or ‘the biggest prize in golf’. For sport to have real legacy, it has to be about the trophy. No-one cares about how much the winner of the Champions League or The Masters gets, just that they get their hands on that amazing trophy or that iconic green jacket. That’s the boundary we have to cross now; to make these sports events significant for winning them rather than for the prize money.
I would love to see the UAE co-host the FIFA World Cup
I hope that the great work hosting the AFC Asian Cup might be a precursor for the UAE helping out with the 2022 World Cup. Whether it is shared between the Gulf countries or not I think people are grossly underestimating this World Cup. I think it will be great. It’ll be different of course and if people are expecting the matchday experience to be like going to a Manchester derby, they may be disappointed. It’s a different culture, a different environment – but it is still fans who love football.
I do hope we see the tournament shared between Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. I think it’s something that should happen. It’s an amazing opportunity for the Middle East to show a united front and love of sport. Given the current situation, maybe the only chance would be a last-minute shaking of hands; an understanding that having the World Cup in the Middle East is bigger than our differences at the moment.