Big, bold, brash and backed up with lots of cash. That is by no means a hyperbolic description of the UAE construction industry.
This is, after all, home to man-made archipelagoes in the shape of palm trees or a map of the world. This is where the world’s tallest building, the 830-metre Burj Khalifa, is located. Architects here are not known for their subtlety.
Sports architecture, too, can be rather ostentatious. Take the Yas Marina Circuit, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Designed by Germany’s Hermann Tilke, it cost $1.322bn to construct. As a catalyst for regeneration, it has been phenomenal. Alongside it on the artificial 2,500-hectare Yas Island are the world’s fastest rollercoaster, a Ferrari-themed amusement park, a water park, a golf course, a beach and accompanying shops, hotels and restaurants.
The lion’s share of UAE’s sports venues are in Dubai, of course. In 2011 a feasibility study into the emirate’s ability to host an Olympic Games concluded that 70 per cent of the hard infrastructure was already planned or in place. Some of the more important venues include Dubai Autodrome, with a seating capacity of 15,000, Dubai Tennis Stadium (10,000), The Sevens Stadium (50,000), Meydan Racecourse (60,000), Hamdan Sports Complex (15,000), nine golf clubs, Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, Dubai International Marine Club and Dubai Offshore Sailing Club.
Biggest of all is the 4.6m square-metre Dubai Sports City, which includes the 25,000-seat Dubai International Cricket Stadium, two OneDay International cricket ovals, a 5,000-seat rugby stadium and academies for football, rugby, swimming and golf.
There are 14 football clubs in the top tier of the UAE Arabian Gulf League: five in Abu Dhabi, four in Dubai, two in Sharjah, two in Fujairah and one in Ras al-Khaimah. The two biggest stadia are the 25,000-capacity Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium and 24,000-seat Al Jazira Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, which are the respective homes of Ail Ain FC and Al Jazira Club. The remaining stadia have capacities of less than 12,000.
Many venues are multiple-use. Dubai Autodrome and Yas Marina Circuit, for example, host cycling as well as motorsport. Dubai Tennis Stadium stages concerts and the world’s only major outdoor darts competition, the Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters. The Sevens Stadium stages many concerts, too. According to Deloitte, outside of key sports events, Dubai venues have a huge impact on the emirate’s economy. The total annual expenditure due to use of the venue facilities – “excluding that directly attributable to events” – is $255m and the direct economic impact is $54m, mainly from golf courses and football and youth teams that use Dubai for warm-weather training.
To keep ahead of neighbouring Gulf nations, Deloitte suggested that Dubai needs an indoor sports arena with a capacity for up to 15,000 seats and a permanent outdoor stadium with seating for more than 30,000 spectators. The latter may come soon enough, however, thanks to UAE’s staging of the 2019 Asian Cup football tournament.
Despite the global economic downturn and a slump in oil prices, Dubai’s sports industry looks set to grow in the near future. In a region ablaze with political turmoil the UAE is reassuringly stable, which is why Dubai has often been used as a base for cricket matches that have not been able to take place in less safe destinations. “There are parts of the Middle East that are Wild West-dangerous,” Cunningham admitted. “UAE is not one of them.”
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