x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai can dare to think big on Olympic bid

Organisers of previous Games believe the city has what it takes to be a successful Olympic host, writes Andy Mitten.

The UAE Olympic team, lead by flag-bearer Sheikha Maitha Al Maktoum, at the 2008 Games' opening ceremony in Beijing.
The UAE Olympic team, lead by flag-bearer Sheikha Maitha Al Maktoum, at the 2008 Games' opening ceremony in Beijing.

The mayor of Athens during the 2004 Summer Games and a top executive of the tourism arm of the London 2012 Olympics have given a thumbs up to the idea of a Summer Olympics in Dubai in 2024.

"We were the smallest country to get the Olympic Games," said Dora Bakoyannis, the only woman to be mayor of a city hosting the Olympics. "People thought we could never manage. We had to tell them that would succeed and we did."

She sees similarities with Dubai.

"Dubai has a lot of experience. There is a very good infrastructure with hotels; the roads are big enough so that you can have the extra Olympic lanes. That was a big problem in London. And looking at what I've seen here, I don't think the venues will be a problem for Dubai."

Bakoyannis spoke to The National following the second day of the Host Cities Summit in Dubai.

"The bidding process is very tough and very difficult," she said. "A lot of countries and good cities participate, but there is always an advantage when you are new because you have the bonus that it's your first time and you are not on your second or third bidding round."

Staging another event can help.

"It will be important if Dubai gets the World Expo (in 2020) and this would be a test event. That would be a plus because when you stage two events you have the benefits of two and the cost of one. You also keep the momentum. I think [Dubai] can do it."

If Dubai were to bid, questions will be asked about the suitability of staging an Olympics in the summer where temperatures average 33°C.

"The date would have to be changed and that would be an important decision which would be decided with the IOC," Bakoyannis said. "You cannot do it in August, it's clear, but you can do it in winter, the athletes could come in January."

Bakoyannis has no regrets about Athens becoming an Olympic city.

"The Olympic games are not about money, they are about values," said Bakoyannis. "Athens was wonderful, the whole of the city was dancing and singing. On every corner there were bands playing. I saw Palestinians and Israelis dancing together. That's the essence of the message of the games, that you stop and have a dialogue. That's the reason the ancient Greeks founded the games - to speak to each other.

"There are a lot of values which the modern world needs badly today. If you concentrate on the values produced by the cultural and the sports side, then it can be a huge success."

Her positive sentiments were echoed by Chris Foy, head of the 2012 Games Unit for Visit Britain.

London welcomed 420,000 overseas visitors for the Olympics, each spending an average of £1,290 (Dh7,630) - twice that of a tourist who did not visit for the Olympics.

"The main tourism benefit was the long-term gain," said Foy, who was also optimistic about Dubai's chances.

"Dubai has developed a lot and there is a fantastic infrastructure," he said. "Hopefully, Dubai and any other bidding cities can learn from London. We've raised the bar quite high in how you use the games to lever promotion of a country.

"If Dubai were to stage the Olympics it would be another stage in becoming a world city- a seismic shift for the city and the country to get itself on the world map.

"The Olympics can change people's perceptions. Germans were not seen as the most friendly people but after the 2006 World Cup there was a massive change. I think that people see Britain as a more friendly and open country after the Olympics. There are huge possibilities for Dubai or whoever hosts 2024 to pursue whatever agenda they want."

Legacy is everything. "If you want to stage a big event now, you have to show legacy," said Geoffrey Lipman of the World Tourism Organization.

Bakoyannis agreed. "The legacy for us was new infrastructure in an ancient city. Today we have another city, one which is accessible to disabled people and that's because of the Olympics and Paralympics. We needed a metro and we built one."

But there can be unexpected costs.

"The worst thing for us was that we were the first Olympic games after 11th September," said Bakoyannis. "There was an international panic about what would happen if the Olympic Games were attacked. It was hell. We paid US$1.2 billion (Dh4.4bn) on security. That diluted the legacy.

"Would we do them again? Yes. It was wonderful to see the whole world looking at Greece, our culture and islands. An utterly wonderful moment."

sports@thenational.ae