Dubai: Khalid Zarouni, President of the Dubai Sports City, is a man who wears many hats. The vice-chairman of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), he is also the Director of Zarooni Group of Companies and has extensive knowledge about the local as well as international market from a community development perspective.
Gulf News caught up with the self-effacing administrator as the Dubai International Cricket Stadium completed 10 years recently and the dream project of Dubai Sports City set to complete 15 years of its existence. Following are the excerpts:
Congratulations on Dubai International Stadium completing 10 years and the Dubai Sport City nearing 15 years of its existence. How has been this journey over the years from a vast patch of sand to realising a dream?
The journey began even before the 10 years (for the stadium) though it’s been 10 years since we opened the stadium. All the work that went through for the project began much early and so it is very rewarding to see from where we started and where we are now. It has been a great journey and a great success beyond our expectation, especially to build a world-class cricket venue. To have such a stadium in Dubai was the dream of our partners.
From its inception and design, we got the best in the business and created this stadium and opened it in 2009. There have been great achievements and the records that happened in the ground are proof of it. We had around 18 international series talking only about the Future Tour Programme (FTP) series between the boards. We had 94 international matches and now hold the world record for staging the most T20 international matches with 47 matches held here already. Over and above, we have staged major T20 league tournaments like Pakistan Super League (PSL) and Indian Premier League (IPL). We have won few awards and having seen venues around the world, we think we have one of the best stadiums in the world.
Once international matches are over and franchise leagues matches are also over, do you look at the stadium as source for other kinds of revenue stream to sustain it? We know that the stadium is also a popular venue for concerts which have happened over the years. Is there anything else in the pipeline?
The stadium has always has been designed as a multi-function stadium. So beyond cricket, we can do concerts and done many of them. We have done lot of public speaking events as we can accommodate a high gathering. As an outdoor venue with a huge capacity, it is one of the unique venues here, which can host such events, with high capacity and we have done that. A stadium cannot sustain on one function, everything today has to make commercial sense too.
A sports venue is a tricky business; it is not straightforward like any of the commercial ventures. You need to really work hard to make sure that it is commercially savvy.
There were some thought of moving Dubai Duty Free Tennis to Sports City while Fina swimming, which could have been held here, went to Hamdan Sports City. Is the location posing a problem to realise its full potential?
The Fina world championship actually required a more specialised venue. We have an Olympic pool and we have other aqua services within our facility, but the requirement was a purpose-built facility and that was the time when Shaikh Hamdan Complex was built. We see our facilities as complimenting the big picture of Dubai so whatever is being built, we see it all as completing the requirement of sport in general.
We work with different government agencies like Dubai Sports Council and different federations of sports, even the UAE Swimming Federation. We have good relationship with everybody and when we sit on the big table to discuss the sport in the region, we sit as one to see on what we can do to attract major sports events here or to create a grassroots programme locally here. I always say if we want people to excel in sport, the first thing you do is to build the infrastructure. Be it basketball, tennis and so on, you have to build the infrastructure for sport to flourish. So what we are doing is adding more to the infrastructure of sports, whether it is Dubai Sports City or any other sports government agencies around us.
Where do see yourself in the next 10 years — both as a thriving sports hub and a community?
We have a lot to do and there is a lot in the pipeline. There are things that we know and things we do not know. So in Dubai Sports City when it comes to sport, we are constantly looking at new things and also at other venues to be aware of what is surrounding us. We are in the sport business and you know — we have to constantly be innovative when it comes to that and be commercially successful and add value to the city and the region. So down the road, we are always looking at sports side of the business to become always innovative.
Finally, we have spoken about sport but if you look at the total picture and identity of the Dubai Sports City, the community that you have built around it is a thriving one. Does it give you a sense of pride that it is a self-contained community today?
Of course, the other side of the project is the commercial residential side. This project, by itself, has become a very successful community. We have many schools in the city with different curriculum with thousands of students; we have nurseries, kindergarten and other community areas. We provide a good living space … I also stay here. Our sports village has been very successful with families attending those areas. We have 14,000 to 10,000 people going through that area every weekend. We have cricket academy, rugby academy and tennis and many other grounds — so all of these add value to the quality of living, which is at people’s doorstep!