Can Dubai host the Olympics?

Running an Olympic marathon when the mercury hits 50-degrees Celsius would be rather testing, says Rob Corder.
Can Dubai host the Olympics?
By Rob Corder
Thu 03 Apr 2008 12:43 PM

This week's visit to the Olympic city of Beijing by UAE vice president and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has inspired him to consider a bid of his own for the Games.

The bid - if it goes ahead - conjures up several intriguing questions at a commercial, political and sporting level.

The cost of hosting the Beijing Olympics is reckoned at about $40 billion - although this includes infrastructure projects such as a new metro system. London has an official budget of $16 billion for the 2012 Olympics, but commentators believe this to be massively optimistic.

Dubai does not blink when multi-billion dollar budgets are discussed. Three Palm Islands, the world's tallest building and the world's largest airport can all be proposed, approved, planned and built without accountants breaking sweat.

But the government does not fund these projects. Typically, there is a bit of seed money, perhaps the donation of land, but then the private sector has to raise the money.

Raising this money has proved simple for projects like Palm Island, because so much of the real estate is sold off plan, providing ample cash for construction. Bonds for airports and airline expansion have also been oversubscribed because investors believe in the financial viability of the projects they are backing.

Whether the same trick would work for an Olympic complex, where the revenue generating opportunities for velodromes and swimming pools is questionable, is another matter. In a small country like the UAE, the sporting venues are unlikely to ever turn a profit and government support would be essential.

The Olympic Village, which in Beijing's case will accommodate 16,000 athletes, can turn a profit by selling off the units after the Games finish, but in a real estate market as competitive as Dubai's, developers are unlikely to be limbering up for a sprint to build it.

The Olympic Games has always been a political hot potato and the run up to the Beijing Olympics will be an interesting case study for Dubai to observe. Thousands of journalists will descend on the city and they will not be content with simply covering events on the athletics track. China's record on human rights, the environment and corruption will be put under the microscope by the world's media.

Editors will demand controversy from their reporters, and the Chinese authorities will not be able to control the image of Beijing that emerges. Dubai should ask itself whether it is ready for the same level of scrutiny if it wins an Olympic bid.

And then there is the sport. The Olympics is typically held in August - Beijing runs from 8-24 August. In Dubai, the effort of walking from your front door to your car in the summer is sufficiently challenging exercise for most residents.

It is unimaginable for athletes to run 1500 metres, let alone a marathon in temperatures of 50-degrees Celsius. The Games would have to be moved to either spring or autumn for Dubai to be considered, which raises questions over whether the event could succeed at any other time of year. Holidays, sporting calendar congestion and training programmes would all have to be reconfigured.

Despite all these challenges, Dubai must be taken seriously if it proceeds with a bid. The Olympics is a force for good: bringing together different cultures under the unifying umbrella of sporting endeavour.

An Arab games - and a win for either a Doha or Dubai Olympics would certainly be viewed as that - would showcase the Muslim world as welcoming, progressive, internationally engaged and vibrant.

Dubai, the Arab world, and the Olympic movement would all be richer for that.

Rob Corder is the Editorial Director of ITP Publishing Group.

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