x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ready, willing and able to be the perfect Olympic host

The bid might not be official yet but the emirate is already '70 per cent' prepared and the dream is a step closer.

Andy Murray in action at the Dubai Tennis Championships.
Andy Murray in action at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

As statements of intent go, few could have carried as much weight.

"Hosting the Olympic Games in the Middle East would be a dream come true for the entire region," Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Price of Dubai, said in July of a potential 2024 Olympic bid by Dubai.

The message was clear: Dubai is ready.

A feasibility study for a Dubai Games had concluded that almost 70 per cent of the infrastructure was already in place or imminent. Dubai is as prepared for a successful bid as a city could possibly be at such an early stage.

And now it seems that dream is a step closer, according to Abdulrahman Falaknaz, the UAE National Olympic Committee's finance director. "The UAE has the infrastructure, capability, manpower and know-how to host such events," he said on Tuesday from the sidelines of the Host Cities Summit being held at Meydan Racecourse.

The Gulf has been inching towards it. Bahrain become the first country in the region to host a Formula One Grand Prix, in 2004. Abu Dhabi followed in 2009. Qatar, meanwhile, hosted the Asian Games in 2006 and two years ago pulled of the coup of securing the 2022 football World Cup.

But few cities have Dubai's track record. The Dubai World Cup, at Meydan; the Desert Classic golf tournament and the Rugby Sevens are well known. The men's and women's tennis tournaments consistently attract the world's top-ranked players, and the Race to Dubai guarantees the presence of the European Tour's top 60 golfers.

Often in host cities or countries, such as Athens for 2004 or South Africa for 2010, work on facilities begins in earnest after the bid has been successful. Not Dubai. In terms of sports facilities, accommodation and transport, that "70 per cent" will likely be closer to 100 per cent well before deadline.

Many of the sporting facilities already stand scrutiny. The Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex, which in October held the Asian Swimming Championships, has received a ringing endorsement from one Olympic hero.

"Dubai has one of the best facilities in the world," said Chad Le Clos, the gold-medal winning South African swimmer. "It's unbelievable."

He went on to say that the pools, diving platforms and training facilities were "way better than London" had offered during the 2012 Games.

Some events can be outsourced. Sailing in Ras Al Khaimah, perhaps. Football matches can be played across several emirates. Rugby sevens, which will be included on the Olympic programme from 2016, has a natural home at The Sevens. And beach volleyball could be played on an actual beach anywhere in the country.

Such flexibility is forcing organising committees to broaden their horizons. Rio de Janeiro will become the first South American city to host an Olympics; Qatar the first Arab country to host a World Cup, signalling a new era for the region.

"We came to realise the importance of major sports organisations to look to new territories and destinations, overcoming certain barriers and using major tournaments as a catalyst for social and economic development," said Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee.

"We saw a great opportunity to be a first-time World Cup host in the Middle East. It wasn't a nation bid - it was a regional Middle Eastern bid and Fifa recognised that. Fifa recognised the Middle East as a major region and participant in world sport."

The stifling summer heat will, as ever, be a major obstacle.

But even here, there are precedents for holding the "Summer" Olympiads in the autumn. The games of Mexico City in 1968 and Tokyo in 1964 were both held in October, while the 1956 Melbourne Games took place in November.

The well-being of the athletes must come first. Many events would be held in air-conditioned indoor arenas or, as in London, temporary facilities. The main, 60,000-capacity athletics stadium, at Dubai Sports City, would likely have a retractable roof, too. Commonsense and safety measures would be enforced where necessary, both for the athletes and the spectators.

Above all, perhaps Dubai's greatest strength will be its people. This summer, London showed what can be achieved when a nation embraces its diversity. Few cities can match being home to such a variety of nationalities as Dubai.

It is early days; a bid must be submitted by 2015, and a decision will be made in 2017. But it's never too early to dream. Bring it on.


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