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24/05/2010 - 10.31

DUBAI: THE BIGGEST, THE GREATEST, THE MOST EXTRAVAGANT

L'arrivo dello Sceicco Al Maktoum
Sportaccord (ex GAISF) chose Dubai for its annual meeting in 2010

THE BIGGEST, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, THE MOST…....EXTRAVAGANT

From a fishing village just 40 years ago, Dubai has become one of the most cosmopolitan and interesting cities in the world. But it’s crazy!

by Ennio Falsoni

I had already been to Dubai about ten years ago as I returned from Oman where we had organized a series of kickboxing events, including some WAKO-Pro world title fights, during a large international fair. Even then, I had the impression that this extraordinary city was either the creation of a visionary genius or a madman. I had been impressed by a shopping center which featured (it still exists today) an indoor ski slope. I was impressed by the world’s largest Duty Free area at the Dubai airport, an immense airport connected to the world’s most important destinations. I was awed by the 7-star Buji Al Arab Hotel which stands out like a huge spinnaker in the middle of the sea. The hotel displays incredible luxury, with gold taps and fittings, fantastic marble and very expensive restaurants with prices that are prohibitive for all but the most exclusive clientele. I was also impressed by the traffic, by the lights of the city center and, above all, by the hundreds and hundreds of construction cranes filling the horizon, a sure sign that the city was rapidly growing. And what growth! It all seemed wildly extravagant to me. I returned to Dubai in late April because Sportaccord, the organization consisting of the IOC, the various winter and summer sports organizations and the ex-GAISF, had organized the annual meeting of all the directors of the recognized International Federations. This idea is enjoying increasing success because it allows the leaders of the world’s sports to meet, discuss their problems, make plans together and receive worthwhile lessons from experts in marketing and/or communications. In other words, it’s the right place to learn where world sports are headed, to test the wind of new trends in order to attempt to make the right choices for one’s own sports organization. The meeting was held at the Atlantis Palm, a huge, somewhat kitsch, Las Vegas-style hotel, built at the first palm tree along Dubai’s seafront. The hotel has 1500 rooms and can host over 3000 people. Inside, everything recalls the sea, from the enormous seashells that serve as water fountains throughout, to the columns, the painted walls and the large aquarium, with its enormous variety of fish, that welcomes guests as they walk towards one of the hotel’s five restaurants. Besides wanting to enjoy Dubai with more tranquility than in the past, I returned, above all, because on April 27 there was a meeting of the International Federations participating in the very first “World Combat Games” which will be held from August 27 to September 4 in Beijing utilizing the same sports venues and hotels that hosted the Olympic Games two years ago. The Chinese Delegation presented a video showing the work-in-progress for the next Games. I’m certain the Games will be grandiose given the presence of  top-of-the-crop athletes from 13 different martial arts sports, plus over 1000 volunteers, along with the various thousands of aficionados from 60 countries on the 5 continents. After the meeting with all the relative details of the 1560 participating  athletes, coaches and directors – 120 for each of the 13 federations involved – whose stay will be completely paid for by the Games organizing Committee (not to mention those that each federation will take along either for need or for fun), I still had some time left to visit Dubai. I couldn’t but seize the opportunity to play in a golf team tournament offered to the Sportaccord Convention participants. A double-decker bus, just like the traditional ones in London, took us to a golf course that Ernie Els, a world renowned South African champion, designed two years ago. It was 10 a.m. and since we still had some time before the 1 p.m. tournament, we were given a sightseeing tour of the wondrous landmarks of this city. On leaving Atlantis and exiting the Palm,  we could notice at once that all the constructions, some quite elegant, were bunched a bit too close together in spite of the vast expanses everywhere. Driving along the main 12-lane boulevard cutting through Dubai, you first come across the Dubai Mall, which is an enormous department store, 6 times bigger than the one I had seen 10 years before, and then another Mall under construction that will be another 6 times larger than the present Dubai Mall! Then you spot the tallest building in the world – at least for the time being – called Burj Khalifa, 160 storeys of unbelievable aerial lightness. It’s a monument to modern technology, which struck me also because the first thing you notice is…the Armani Hotel Dubai, conceived by Giorgio Armani, whose geniality never ceases to make us very proud Italians.. The Hotel was inaugurated during my stay there. Armani has a partner, Mr. Mohammed Alabbar, a sheik who, in my opinion, sealed a real joint venture with Armani: the former put in the capital and Armani his name, his refined taste and the selection of materials and décor. Just imagine, the starting price for a room in this hotel is €1000 a day and it reaches €13,000 for a 300-square-meter suite, one of which is always available for “King Giorgio” himself. Another triumph of our made-in-Italy in the very heart of the Emirates. Next to this tall tower lie a series of Manhattan-style skyscrapers. The only problem is that most of them are not completed yet. Therefore, they are empty, as are most of buildings I saw as we headed towards another massive project: the Dubai Sports City, a full-fledged city within a city hosting up to 60,000 people. It’s a series of dwellings, hotels, soccer, tennis and cricket venues plus facilities for all other sports. When Sheik Khalid Al Zardoni showed us the model of the project I immediately thought that Dubai might be planning to bid for a future Olympic Games.  They didn’t say as much, but it’s obvious that the first rate sports venues they are building could easily host an event of this magnitude. In the meantime, they continue building complexes at a formidable pace. Dubai Sports City is still an outdoor construction site, just like all over the new Dubai where lots of dust is being stirred up.  We were shown a video presentation depicting life in Dubai Sports City. There were trees, hedges, ponds and people crowding shops and restaurants. Clearly the project is to turn Dubai Sports City into an integrated community on all levels, with anything needed for business or sports. “Good luck,” I said to myself. We finally reached the golf course and frankly I couldn’t wait to play. It is a classic links golf course. For those of you who do not know much about this sport, it is similar to the Scottish courses bordering the sea, without trees and bushes. The course is undulating, so it’s never flat under your feet, and it offers lots of bunkers and very fast, difficult greens. But it was fun. While playing I glanced around and even there, what did I see? Houses, houses and more houses, all bunched closely together. How can anybody in his right mind conceive such an avalanche of concrete? I wonder who will buy these houses? As curious as ever, I approached one of the organizers and asked about prices. He answered prices vary from a minimum of 750,000 US dollars for 3 bedrooms and 3 baths, to a maximum of 2 million dollars. That’s not peanuts. I think a European buying here must be crazy, but you never know. One thing that leaves me troubled is that while many of these houses look onto the refreshing green golf course, the view on the other side is dismaying: only open desert. Ladies and gentlemen, this is present day Dubai. Dubai’s sheik, His Excellency Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who conceived it and got it built, knows all too well that the underlying petroleum is about to be exhausted. He invested most of his money in the future of this country and its infrastructures, maybe somewhat extravagantly, but primarily focusing on his dream that Dubai might live forever thanks to other sources of income. Will he pull it off? The economic crisis is evident also in Dubai, where work at many construction sites has been halted, accounting for countless cranes standing still. Having to face the risk of an impending real estate collapse, Sheik Al Maktoum had to ask for a 10 billion dollar loan to finish the world’s highest tower. Burj Khalifa, in fact, bears the name of Abu Dabi’s Sheik, Khalifa, who lent the money. Al Maktoum can continue dreaming of Dubai as one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world. Today Dubai represents the most western face possible of the Islamic world and despite the excesses of sumptuous wealth and extravagances, I believe that the Sheik’s project is also invaluable for all of us and I hope that he will be successful with his huge undertaking. Dubai is definitely worth the trip and would be an unforgettable experience for anyone. But be careful about the time of year you choose, for two or three months a year the temperatures reach 45°C in the shade!