x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Olympic dream is definitely hitting home for the UAE

There are many things working for and against the UAE Olympic Committee in their quest to make a bid for the 2024 Games.

Facilities like the Dubai International Tennis Complex will make a possible Olympic bid for the UAE more attractive. Mike Young / The National
Facilities like the Dubai International Tennis Complex will make a possible Olympic bid for the UAE more attractive. Mike Young / The National

"Quality not quantity."

It's the mantra that Omar Abdulaziz Al Hai, member of the board of directors of the UAE Olympic Committee, is keen to preach when addressing the country's participation on the world stage.

When it comes to global events, like the Olympics or the World Cup, for long the UAE's ambitions did not extend beyond participation. Today, the country seeks excellence.

And, perhaps, a decade down the line, hosting.

Speaking at the Abu Dhabi International Sports Exhibition on Wednesday, Al Hai made no promises of bringing such events any time soon, but he insisted the country is on the right track to eventually bring them to the Emirates.

Much has been made over the past year of the possibility of Dubai bidding for the 2024 Olympics. But, increasingly, world-class events are being shared across a country. And Al Hai believes the UAE is ready.

"Every emirate strives to be the best," he said. "The result is that the whole country benefits, he said at a forum titled: "Bidding for Major Sport Events in the UAE".

Abu Dhabi already hosts one of the world's great sporting spectacles, the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The next step is to attract those global events.

To do that, Vincent Gaillard, the director general of SportAccord, an umbrella organisation for Olympic and non-Olympic sporting federations, identified a 10-point list that countries need to tick off in order to present winning bids.

Included on the list: government support, political stability, financial guarantees, events expertise, safety, governance and transparency, and quality infrastructure that provides venues, world-class hotels and transportation.

In terms of sporting facilities, in particular, Al Hai has few worries that the UAE meets required standards. "Sheikh Zayed Sports City is practically an Olympic Village," he said, adding that Dubai Sports City and facilities in Al Ain are also up to the job.

Over the past decade, social legacy and sports development have gained particular significance, especially in the Olympic movement. And with the UAE currently home to almost 70 universities, Al Hai, is confident that facilities would be used for years to come.

"The UAE ticks almost all of these boxes," Gaillard said. But, he added, that is only half the job. Sponsorship and lobbying play a big part in turning heads. "You need to hire marketers and professional lobbyists who will help you look at yourself objectively," he said.

Some negatives are unavoidable. For the UAE, they would include a small population and high temperatures in the summer months, when most major international events take place.

"Some things you cannot do anything about," he says. "You must downplay these issues and differentiate yourself with the positives."

It is those positives that, it is hoped, sway the awarding organisations.

Certainly, both the IOC and Fifa have shown a desire to take their flagship events to new frontiers; the 2016 Olympics in Rio will be the first Games to be held in South America. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be the first in the Middle East and in a predominately Muslim country.

Since winning the bid, however, Qatar has had to deal with one of those "unavoidable" challenges Gaillard mentions: the summer heat. Calls have been made to move the World Cup later in the year. The issue is far from settled.

Despite involving considerably more athletes and sports, an Olympics potentially can navigate the issue of timing more easily than a World Cup, which has to take into consideration the multitude of domestic leagues around the world.

Above all, there is precedent to holding the games outside the traditional July-August time slot; the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne were held across November and December, while the games of 1964 in Tokyo and 1968 in Mexico City were held in October.

Gaillard also highlighted that it is often the countries themselves, rather than the IOC, that insist on holding events in the summer months as it coincides with school and summer holidays.

Should the UAE bid for the 2024 Olympics, those are the issues that must be addressed.

Whether in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, one thing not in short supply is confidence.

"Hosting the Olympic Games in the Middle East would be a dream come true for the entire region," Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, said last July. "And we fully intend to place a bid once I am totally satisfied that we are prepared to host the greatest sporting event in history in a way that would add value to the Olympic movement itself, as well as the youth of the Arab World."

Indeed, the UAE Olympic Committee's official slogan is "The Olympic Dream". Al Hai would probably add: "quality above quantity".

The country seems ready; it's a matter of time.


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