x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dubai's Olympic bid could beat the heat

There is no reason Dubai's desert climate should disqualify the emirate from hosting the Summer Olympics, says the chief of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

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The "Iceberg" Skating Palace and "Fisht" stadium construction site at the Olympic Park in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. Mikhail Mordasov / AFP

Dubai has a sporting chance of hosting the Olympics despite its harsh climate, according to the head of 2014 Winter Games in the Russian city of Sochi.

No Arab country has ever hosted the world's largest sporting event. But Dubai is expected to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, a top official at the UAE National Olympic Committee said this month.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, the chief executive of Russia's Sochi 2014 Olympic Organising Committee, predicts such an event will be held in the Arabian Gulf.

"Nothing is impossible - even a subtropical city can host the Winter Games," says Mr Chernyshenko, referring to Sochi's balmy position on the Black Sea, which gives it a unique climate more akin to the subtropics than the Russian Steppes.

"My prediction is that the Olympics will come here to the [Arabian Gulf] region. It's up for the [International Olympic Committee] to decide, but I'm sure that the boundaries will be extended. And then, to Africa."

Sochi, in south-west Russia, is preparing for the Olympics in February 2014. The resort city, on the same latitude as Marseille in France and where the snow-capped mountains are visible from the beach, will be the warmest place in which the winter event has been held.

Mr Chernyshenko says there is no reason why Dubai's heat should keep it from hosting the summer Games.

Qatar's plans for the Fifa World Cup 2022 will set a precedent for such events in this region, he says.

"When Qatar demonstrates that they can handle the challenge of the natural heat, it will really open the doors for the rest of the events.

"My personal opinion is that the Gulf region and the Middle East should be included into the agenda of global sporting events," he says.

Mr Chernyshenko, a native of Sochi, says US$30 billion (Dh110.2bn) of investment in the area stands to benefit Russia as a whole in the long term. Here, he talks about Dubai's chances and how his country is preparing for the Winter Games.

Dubai is expected to bid to host the Olympics. Does it stand a chance?

Why not? We're hosting the Winter Games in a subtropical city. The Fifa World Cup 2022 is a brilliant illustration of the change in the stereotypes: that the human can change the environment for any purpose. This high-technology and ambitious project to build an air-conditioned, open-air stadium is really something. When Qatar achieves it, it will be a great [opportunity] for this region to develop this sport.

So would an Olympic event in the Gulf ever be feasible?

From a practical point of view, yes. I'm relatively positive of the chances of the Gulf region to host major sporting events. Because they have already demonstrated the ability to organise events at the highest possible level. The policy of the local authorities is very friendly to investors and they are used to attracting the best-in-class specialists into the region for advising and for governance.

What's the attraction in hosting the Olympics?

Every city recognises that hosting the Olympic Games is the greatest-ever catalyst to accelerate processes. You can change the law, you can change the environment. In normal life it would take you decades. In preparation for the Games, in five years you can jump into the future and develop the infrastructure and achieve the goals - marketing, economical, environmental, social - which is impossible to reach in such a short time in a normal life.

How will the Sochi Games affect Russia as a whole?

The Sochi project is not a one-off event for an entire city. We're building a success story and the blueprint to follow for the rest of the country. We created this system of corporate governance to handle the project of the biggest construction [effort], maybe, in the world. It was not easy. We were handling maybe 320 different projects simultaneously, with more than 500 different suppliers and investors and so on. To coordinate it is really rocket science.

The total infrastructure budget was reported to be $30bn. Is that right?

This is for Olympic-related infrastructure. But the ... budget for redeveloping all the region around is very difficult to calculate because we are redeveloping the railroads, the power stations, gas pipelines, and many other things. So it's much beyond $30bn on the scale of the region. The Olympic-related budget for the construction is the same that we submitted during the bidding campaign - it's about $7bn. And my operational budget to handle the games is about $2bn. But Sochi already attracted to the region a huge amount of private investment. It's growing. In the Sochi region, there are no unemployed people.

No unemployed? How can that be possible?

[Unemployment is so low] that it's almost a statistical mistake. We created a huge amount of jobs in the entire region, not only in construction. There are new jobs that appeared for the hospitality and services, to handle this infrastructure. We are building and renovating 42,000 hotel rooms. So you can imagine how many staff you need just to handle the hotels.

Where is the money coming from?

My operational budget is private funds. The money for the construction of the Olympic infrastructure is half public, half private. The biggest Russian investors like Gazprom or Sberbank ... are investing into the building of entire resorts in the mountains or by the sea.

How do you avoid being left with an Olympic site that no one uses?

The most frustrating thing would be creating a white elephant ...

Is there a danger that could happen in Sochi?

No. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia lost all the winter sport centres [spread across] the former republic. This was a good opportunity to build the infrastructure for the national team to train. We obtained our bobsleigh track, we obtained our ski-jump and some indoor ice palaces, and created a national sports destination. Sochi venues are state-of-the-art. And they are purpose-built - they are convertible. And Sochi will be competing with Dubai and Davos in terms of hosting the big events, not only sport but also conventions and so on.

Do you have to be into sports yourself to oversee something like this?

My favourite sport is skiing. I started to do skiing in Sochi when there weren't even any ski lifts. And now Sochi is rapidly developing into one of the most modern ski resorts in the world.

bflanagan@thenational.ae