Olympics may be Dubai's next goal
Dubai does nothing half-heartedly. Fifteen years ago, Dubai was just another city in the Gulf, there was nothing particularly special about it, apart from the fact that, for western workers, it was an attractive location because of the lack of income tax, but this it had in common with many other GCC cities.
Today, Dubai is a major international player in travel, commerce and politics, and its ambitions have never been modest. It built the world’s most luxurious hotel, the world’s tallest building, the Gulf’s first mall-hotel resort and huge islands off the coast reclaimed from the ocean.
“We have to be number one at anything we do. It is hard to get there but even harder to stay there,” Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, recently told the media.
It was not with skepticism then, that Dubai news media received the recent hints by Sheik Mohammed that the emirate may look into hosting the 2020 Olympics. His hints were recently made more direct when he told Dubai news outlets at a press conference that the city was considering a bid to host the Olympics.
“That is very good news, that people talk about (a possible Dubai bid),” Sheik Mohammed told reporters at a sports conference recently. “But we first have to study what we can offer. I am not going to say it (2020) is too early. But we have to do our studies first.”
His cautious tone is a sign of the times for Dubai, the city has been brought back to earth, like all major cities around the world, since the onset of the recession, but the confirmation of a possible bid is also a sign that Dubai has not lost its ambitious nature. If the emirate’s bid were to win, it would be a massive coup for Dubai.
Hosting the most prestigious and well-known event in the sports calendar may, in fact, be the spark needed to jettison Dubai out of the economic doldrums it currently finds itself in. When South African won the bid to host the FIFA World Cup it created a foundation for massive investment and economic growth, such would be the case for Dubai.
Dubai is already well-placed as a possible location for the Olympics, its iconic airline, Emirates Air, is based at Dubai International Airport and has quickly become one of the world’s leading airlines with routes to all major cities across the world.
In addition, Dubai has in recent years begun heavily investing in public transport. The crowning feature of this investment has been the Dubai Metro, which has now opened all stations along its first line, The Red Line, with another line, the Green Line, slated for completion in 2011. The metro already carries 35 million passengers each year, based on 2010 figures released to Dubai news media by the Road and Transport Authority (RTA).
The city’s major residential and facility development, Sports City, would be the obvious best choice of primary locations for the hosting of the Olympics. This $4 billion development has not been put on hold like many other developments in the wake of the financial crash, which is perhaps an important indication of the seriousness with which Dubai’s leadership are considering an Olympic bid.
Sports City is 4,600 square kilometers in size and, in addition to residential apartment blocks, will feature a massive 60,000 seat multi-purpose stadium, which could be used for everything from long-jump to rugby. There will also be a 25,000 seat cricket stadium, a 10,000 seat indoor arena as well as various sports training academies.
Dubai has already established itself as a major sporting event host city with its holding of golf’s Dubai Desert Classic, the WTA and ATP tennis tournaments and the Dubai World Cup horse racing events. It faces major challenges, however, in particular Mother Nature.
Doha, the capital of Qatar, is the only other city in the Gulf to have made a bid to host the Olympics in 2016 and although it was highly praised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it failed even to make the shortlist. The major factor highlighted by the IOC was the city’s lack of a clear plan to mitigate the effects that the Middle East’s extreme summer heat would have on athletes.
Doha had instead suggested the Olympics be held in October instead of August, which the IOC felt would be problematic for the international sports calendar.
The effects of Dubai’s summer heat are a significant factor, so much so that Sheik Mohammed addressed the problem directly at a recent press conference where he was joined by his wife, Jordan’s Princess Haya.
“We are concerned about the climate. On the other hand, nothing will stop us. But still, priority is the athlete,” he told Dubai news media from a hotel on Palm Island.
Princess Haya later followed up on the ruler’s remarks.
“All of us want to see the Olympics in our part of the world. But we have to be honest about the hot weather and climate. Until we show Sheikh Mohammed that we are able to answer that question, there will be no bid,” said the princess, who is also a member of the IOC and President of the International Equestrian Federation.
For Dubai residents it is not unusual for the city to take on something as powerful as Mother Nature, in fact, it is something of a status quo, the city has long had ambitions that critics said were fanciful, such as Palm Island, and others that never came to fruition, such as glass domed cities in the desert.
The point seems to be that the emirate continues to look ahead despite current gloomy conditions in the economy.
“There’s a strong can-do culture here,” Sheik Mohammed said in comments released recently to Dubai news media by his press office.
Time will tell is that culture is enough to bring Dubai the feather it needs for its recession hit cap.
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