x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A gruelling bid for Olympic glory

Bidding successfully to host the Olympic Games is as demanding as qualifying for any of the event's 35 sport disciplines.

Officially, there are 35 sports in the modern summer Olympics but, as every city that has ever had the misfortune to stage the Games knows, there are in fact 36.

The ancient media sport of baiting the Olympic host begins the moment a successful bid is announced. It is a marathon, not a sprint, and continues until the torch-bearer enters the stadium to kindle the Olympic flame (and in some cases it doesn't stop even then; at Seoul in 1988 the world watched aghast as the doves of peace jumped their cue, settled on the impressive gas-fired cauldron and were promptly incinerated when it was ignited).

London, which last week celebrated having just one year to go to the start of its Games, has endured its share of bashing, at home and abroad. It has ranged from the traditional speculation that none of the venues would be ready on time to the ridicule heaped upon its admittedly lame logo and frankly weird mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville.

Dubai's decision this week not to enter the running for the 2020 Olympics - taken following a two-year feasibility study that concluded that, although as much as 70 per cent of the necessary infrastructure was in place or planned, much more needed to be done - is doubtless a wise one.

True, to be the first city in the Middle East to host the Olympic Games is a tantalising "first" for Dubai, which it now hopes to achieve in 2024, and would indeed be "a dream come true for the entire region", as Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince, said.

Yet it might also prove something of a nightmare.

A city for which the Olympic motto "Faster, higher, stronger" might have been coined, Dubai would doubtless take the Olympics in its stride. After all, big things get done there, and in record time; it is home to 500 skyscrapers, including the world's tallest, the vast majority of which have shot up in the past 10 years. Olympic village? Stadium? Velodrome? Bring it on.

But does it really need the hassle?

For one thing, there's the prospect of having every journalist in the world in town for years to come, poking around under every rock. Look at Qatar, which may have won the right to host the 2022 World Cup but, more than a decade before the first ball will be kicked, has already endured an international kicking over a host of issues, including the prospect of having to air-condition an entire tournament and feverish speculation that it "bought" the tournament from Fifa.

Security would also be a major headache and a significant cost. In Athens, which in 2004 hosted the first Games after the September 11 attacks, the bill was $1.8 billion (Dh6.6bn), while at £1.5bn (Dh9bn) London has set a new Olympic security record.

And that, of course, is a fraction of the overall cost, which for next year's Games currently stands at £9.35bn (Dh56.25bn). Worth it? Probably not, according to an economic study last month that predicted a total boost to the UK economy of little more than £5bn (Dh30bn), while there is even evidence that hosting the Olympics not only drives away the locals but also suppresses tourism.

As for employment, while the creation of thousands of service and construction jobs might benefit the UK economy, in Dubai, which relies on imported labour, it would represent only a cost.

In short, before it throws its hat in the Olympic rings for 2024, Dubai should consider carefully the words of James Cracknell, a former British rowing Olympian.

"The brutal process of simply qualifying," he wrote last month, "should never be underestimated. The pressure is unrelenting, the schedule exhausting, and the margin for error non-existent."

Apparently it can be quite tough on the athletes, too.