The privately-financed Dubai Sports City development, which comprises an array of top-level sports facilities and a significant residential element, is the place where the two distinct, but inevitably linked, facets of sport in the emirate come together.
“It is a property play with a sporting legacy,” says Dubai Sports City general manager for sports business Maqbul Dudhia, who adds that around 40,000 people currently live on the complex out of a target of 60,000.
In many ways, Dubai Sports City is the embodiment of Dubai’s recent past. It’s a big, bold and ambitious scheme that was still in its early phases when the recession gripped the world in the late 2000s, bringing work to a shuddering halt.
But today, things are very different, and there’s a buoyancy and excitement around the place that bodes well for the future.
“If it had not been for the recession, we would have been done and dusted by now, but even so [the development] has been very successful, and every week new buildings are opening. Major projects such as the 60,000-seater outdoor stadium and a smaller indoor arena are in development again,” adds Dudhia.
Marketed under the slogan ‘Live Life, The Ultimate Sport’, Dubai Sports City houses the ICC headquarters and academy, the Els Club golf course – which will host an Asian Tour competition this December – and a rugby city with its own academy. It also has indoor and outdoor football facilities and a football academy that has proven wildly popular among young local players.
The facilities have been designed to make them a magnet as a training centre for teams and individual athletes from around the world, as well as paying their way by providing services for the local community.
Dhudia says he is proud of the rave reviews the facilities have received from visiting sports stars, in particular international cricketers who experience not only state-of-the-art training and technical facilities, but are able to practice on wickets developed to replicate the different conditions in the major test-playing nations. It’s the perfect place to prepare for a tour, and with the exception of India, all the major national cricket teams have taken advantage of the opportunity.
One of the community initiatives currently taking place at Dubai Sports City is Spanish Soccer Schools, developed in conjunction with former Real Madrid star Michel Salgado and delivered with the help of eight specially-selected Spanish coaches. It launched in August 2013.
“We wanted to run a programme that reflected the culture and ethos of playing football in a particular way, and that is Spanish football,” says Dudhia. “Our initial target was to have 250 kids on the programme, but by October 2014 there were already 1,100. That’s just staggering, it’s been a roaring success.”