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Winning all the way

posted on 05/12/2004: 1744 views

Amidst the tremendous all-round development achieved by the UAE in a short span of time, sport is one area in which the nation has kept itself abreast of the international trend. Modern day sport is an industry and the UAE, which started off with its main focus on the nurture and care of UAE nationals in sport, has now expanded itself to encompass a much bigger role.

Helping to usher in a new era of sports entrepreneurship has been a combined effort from the UAE government, the private sector and various clubs at their respective levels. The mere announcement of mega sporting projects and facilities has been enough for world players to join in as partners, as the UAE asserts itself as the sporting capital of the region.

As reflected in the success of sporting activities in the West, the role of the private sector is huge. Both in supporting and building major sport facilities, and in playing the role of sponsors, the private sector has played a tremendous role in making sport the industry it is today.

And the recent developments in the country not only confirm the presence of this phenomena but the response to some of these projects by international commercial players is a direct result of the hard work initially put in to make the UAE a sport-friendly nation.

The coliseum-style Zayed Sports City, the brainchild of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, former president of the UAE, is more of a sporting village. With a 66,000 plus capacity main stadium that can host a range of sporting activities, the Zayed Sports City is forever expanding.

While the multi-million dollar Khalifa International Bowling Centre —opened in 1999 to stage the World Bowling Championship — is one of the best in the world, the latest facility that is almost ready is a state-of-the-art tennis stadium.

While the current facilities include an athletics track and a world-class ice-rink along with numerous grounds for outdoor training facilities, the second phase of development is on the cards. An indoor stadium to stage handball, volleyball and basketball, and an international swimming pool, are the likely additions.

Added to the various sporting facilities the government has made available another area where the municipalities chip in is the lengthy and safe walking areas, running and jogging tracks, and skating and ling routes in all towns and cities.

The Dubai World Cup, Desert Classic, ATP tennis championships for men and women, the various legs of Formula One and other forms of powerboat racing, are all embedded in the annual calendar of the UAE's sporting season.

But apart from them, the 1996 Asian Cup football championship, the 2003 World Youth Championship, and hundreds of other regional, continental and international events, have been staged by the UAE.

The professional organisation of these events, coupled with the UAE's hospitality and the presence of a sporting culture, have all gone on to send the right signals to the international sporting fraternity. And the time has now arrived when the fruits of all that hard labour are ripe for harvest.

Manchester United, Troon Golf, golfing superstar Ernie Els, Britain's former Davis Cup captain David Lloyd, and the world's number one golf coach Butch Harmon, were among the first major international brand names to commit to Dubai Sports City — the 50 million-sq ft development being created as one of the star attractions of the mega Dh18-billion Dubailand project.

With world-class academies in cricket and hockey also to sign up, following the Manchester United Footballing School, Dubai Sports City has already hit the home stretch.

The Dubai Autodrome, part of the Dubai Sports City project, has already made a spectacular debut when it staged the LG Super Racing Weekend recently. The Dubai Autodrome, a private venture over an area of approximately three-square kilometres, boasts racing facilities approved by the FIA and FIM.

The world-class 5.39km Grade 1 Racetrack churned out some fascinating tussles for supremacy watched by a packed crowd in the 7,000-seat grandstand.

Off the tracks, the Dubai Autodrome received a major boost when Ferrari announced a novel project at the facility.

The first ever Ferrari World is expected to be a multifaceted Ferrari themed edutainment complex where the entire family can appreciate the Ferrari legend.

However, the biggest foray into this new era came when Team Dubai operations were announced.

The announcement of a Formula 1 racing team in Dubai is certainly a giant step into the international arena of commercial sport. While unveiling Dubai's ambitious plan, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation and Chairman of Emirates airline, said: "Dubai is committed to developing and supporting world-class expertise in carefully-targeted high-technology industries.

With its focus on technological and engineering innovation, Formula 1 provides us the perfect environment in which to develop and demonstrate our skills in these cutting-edge areas.”

The classy Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi is another example of a magnificent sporting facility, which is now set to take off on its own. While the UAE has confirmed its status as the sporting capital of the region with most of these mega facilities being launched or completed in the last couple of years, local clubs have also realised the need for self-sufficiency.

Dubai's Al Ahli Club was the first to build and lease out a part of its facility to a private mall, while Al Wahda Club in Abu Dhabi is currently using part of its ground to put up an Al Wahda mall. Al Jazira Club in Abu Dhabi has also renovated most of its facilities and has already started work towards a football academy.

Overall, the UAE's far-sighted approach in the field of sport seems to be paying off and, without doubt, the country is the sporting leader in the region. (The Gulf News UAE National Day Supplement)


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