Dubai: It could have been dismissed as a long shot if, at the beginning of this millennium, someone had laid a wager that Dubai would soon become the seat of world governing body of cricket and a major host of international fixtures.
After all, cricket in the desert was then synonymous with Sharjah while the capital of Abu Dhabi had just developed the Shaikh Zayed Stadium. As the Dubai International Cricket Stadium – the cornerstone of the idea of Dubai Sports City (DSC) completed its 10 years of existence without much fuss recently – it only highlighted the emirate’s philosophy of living up to the tagline of an iconic ad: ‘Impossible is nothing.’
“Yes, it has been a great journey – though the story began much before that from when the idea was first conceived. It is very rewarding to see where we started and where we are now,’’ said Khalid Zarouni, the publicity-shy President of Dubai Sports City.
The rise in stature of the stadium as a world class international cricket venue, incidentally, has been an extremely organic one alongwith the reputation of Dubai and the UAE as a cricket hub in general. The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) decision to relocate themselves from the Lord’s to Dubai in 2005 alongwith a state-of-the art academy – barely a kilometre away from the stadium – was the best thing, which could have happened to raise the profile of the Sports City.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, Zarouni said the stadium’s record now speaks for its credentials. ‘‘We have already hosted the highest number of Twenty20 Internationals (47) in the world and 94 international fixtures so far. There have been around 18 international series and we are talking only about the FTP (Future Tours Programme) series between the boards — not to speak of the Pakistan Super League (PSL), Indian Premier League (IPL) and the Asia Cup last year,’’ he reeled off the figures.
25,000is the seating capacity at Dubai International Stadium
The Asia Cup – for which the UAE emerged as a consensus candidate so that the arch-rivals India and Pakistan can play each other at a neutral venue – has emboldened the officials of DSC that they can take on any global event after this. “It was like a feather in our cap. Till last year, there were only two full members who did not play here – India and Bangladesh – but the Asia Cup also ensured that with the two countries playing the final here. If the number of the teams, crowd response is any indication, we can rightfully claim it was one of the most successful Asia Cups since it began in the Eighties,’’ felt Salman Hanif, Head of Cricket Business & Events.
In hindsight, one has to admit that fate played a big role in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah being jettisoned into the role of playing ‘home’ venues for Pakistan over the last decade on a regular basis. The terror attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in March 2009 as they were approaching the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore served a bodyblow to a country with such huge legacy in the game - not only did they lose the role of co-hosts of the 2011 ICC World Cup, the international teams also refused to visit Pakistan. For Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), who were then on the lookout for an alternative venue to host their international matches, the UAE became a natural choice as the country had already filled in as a neutral choice for some fixtures before. April 22, 2009 was a historic day for the Dubai Stadium when it hosted the first of a five-match ODI series between Pakistan and Australia — ushering in a journey, which still continues with gusto.
While Dubai Sports City has certainly been able to leave its legacy in cricket, the bigger dream of developing it into a multi-discipline complex, which would be able to host an event of the magnitude of a Summer Olympics got somewhat overwhelmed along the way. It’s believed that while the owners of the ‘City’ has nursed such a dream till Dubai preferred to bid for the Expo 2020 instead of the Games - and Zarouni candidly admitted that they had to refocus on their goals.
“Yes, it was not only the Expo which we bid for instead of the Olympics, but there are other venues that opened up in Dubai and there are projects that are coming, which changed our plans. We don’t want to do a duplication of venues, we would rather add more variety and difference in what Dubai and the region has to offer,’’ said Zarouni.
94International fixtures, including 47 Twenty20 matches, held so far
‘‘We had a plan for 60,000-seater football, rugby and track & field stadium plus an indoor stadium around 2004-05 but since that time, the market scenario in Dubai has changed. We had re-mastered the plan and have come up with other features — we have the 18-hole golf course designed by Ernie Els and probably the best golf academy in the region because of our tie-up with the Butch Harmon family. The football academy, which has a tie-up with Spanish La Liga and tennis academy, run by Clarke Francis, are also thriving in the Sports Village,” he added.
How has then, the Sports City been able to develop a revenue plan? “We need more marketing partners for sure – both for amateurs and professionals. Talking about the future, I don’t want to jump the gun, but we want to add things which serve the wellness of the community who have chosen to live here,” remarked Vijay Sajjanhar, CFO of Sports City who has also been a part of the decade-long journey.
Sporting Venues & Academies
■ Dubai International Stadium – 25,000-seating capacity
■ The Els Club – 18 hole championship golf course designed by Ernie Els
■ Claude Harmon Performance Golf Academy
■ Spanish Soccer School – full size indoor and outdoor football pitches including natural pitches
■ ICC Cricket Academy – Two Ovals and indoor nets and gym (retail shop)
■ Sports Park – home to Dubai Eagles Rugby Club and Athletics facility including running track
Sports Village is also home to:
■ ICC and ACC HQ
■ CF Tennis Academy
■ FitRepublik - gym
■ F&B Outlets
■ Hotel in Sports Village
■ 261 and The Big Easy (The Els Club)
■ Kickers Sports Bar and Champs Café (Sports Village)
■ Canal District – 1.2 km man-made canal
■ Canal Residence West – Retail Promenade
■ Canal Residence West Phase 1 – 3 towers 590 apartments completed in 2013
■ Canal Residence West Phase 2 – 2 towers 390 apartments completion Q1 2020
■ Victory Heights – 1000 villas and the 8th and last village ‘Marbella Village’ (94 townhouses) due to be completed in Q1 2020.
(Figures: Dubai Sports City)