Dubai Sports City is aiming to put Dubai on the world sporting map and has taken a long-term view on its partnership with international academies that are seeking to establish a regional presence, according to a top DSC executive.
“We have chosen to partner with only the best in their respective disciplines. We are working with Manchester United Soccer Schools and ICC Global Cricket Academy, offering unmatched facilities for youth to hone their skills,” Khalid Al Zarooni, President, Dubai Sports City (DSC), told Emirates Business in an interview.
With regard to encouraging Emiratis, it is a clear mission of DSC to develop sport activities in the emirate, not only at the elite level but also to make such activities accessible to the whole population here, he said.
How was the idea of DSC conceived and have you incorporated any changes in the concept design?
The initial plans were to construct a stadium for cricket and hockey, but it grew into a much larger project of creating one of the world’s premier sporting destinations a venue to watch major events, a place to learn and improve on sporting skills, a place to participate in sport at all levels.
All of this tied in very well with the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, for creating world-class sporting infrastructure in the emirate and filling the gap as a top destination for the sporting world.
DSC has been conceptualised as a “city within a city”, where you can get everything that you dream of on your doorstep from international sporting events to top-of-the-line sports academies, providing a platform for youth development, recreational sporting facilities, residential and commercial developments, together with all the related amenities expected in a purpose-built city, including international schools, medical facilities, hotels, community centres and entertainment venues.
In pursuit of this dream, much time, effort and care have been put into making the sports city everything it set out to be, and to ensure that what we have promised is actually delivered.
DSC is the vision of three UAE entrepreneurs Abdulrahim Al Zarooni, Abdulrahman Bukhatir and Abdulrahman Falaknaz and we believe it will succeed in putting sports permanently on the map in this ideal environment.
How is work progressing on DSC and when will it become the world’s first purpose-built sports city?
Since breaking ground in 2004, construction has continued at a hectic pace with scheduled completion in 2010. Our first completed facility is the Els Club, which was inaugurated recently by Ernie Els.
We will then open the cricket stadium in October, while Manchester United Soccer Schools [which will be housed within the Dubai Sports City Football Academy] and the ICC Global Cricket Academy will be ready and operational by the end of the year.
The indoor and outdoor stadium will be ready by 2010. You have several venues, academies and sports facilities at one place.
How are you planning to meet the infrastructure needs of the city?
One of DSC’s greatest assets is its location. We believe DSC is located in the heart of new Dubai and therefore enjoys immediate access to some of the latest and best road networks. In addition, we anticipate Dubai’s light rail system to introduce increased connection possibilities.
Internally, roads, drainage and all other infrastructure have been part of the master plan right from the start and are now virtually complete. The internal roads will segregate event and regular traffic, all of which have been based on extensive traffic studies.
Therefore, both residents and visitors will not be affected in any way. Our entire road and traffic network is in accordance with the regulations of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). Urban planning is a difficult job.
How many people do you expect to stay and work in DSC when it is completed?
We expect 60,000 people to be living and working in the city when it is fully completed. The project has been master-planned by US-based Parsons, renowned town master planners.
Every element of the development and its location has been carefully planned and zoned. We have constantly hired the best of the best, be it our own team of project managers and engineering teams or consultants and developers.
How do you plan to meet the demand for power, roads and transportation in the city? Have you awarded any contracts?
We have invested in the entire infrastructure works within the city development be it roads, electricity distribution, sewage and sewage treatment plant. All our objectives have been met and exceeded.
We have worked very closely with various government authorities such as Dubai Municipality and the RTA to ensure that all utilities concerned will be in place, at the highest possible standards and at the speediest possible time.
What will be the revenue stream for DSC, and which international and local events are you focusing on?
Having spent billions of dollars on modern infrastructure, we will obviously be maximising utilisation of the venues for various sport and entertainment events.
The strategy for DSC from the very beginning has been to sustain the city in the long term, for which we have already signed strategic partnerships with entities such as the Dubai Sports Council, the authority for all sport activities in Dubai.
The International Cricket Council has its headquarters in DSC and we are working together on a number of issues, including holding events at our stadium.
Not to mention our alliances with world famous sports academy brands we have tied up with. We are also in talks with various sports and entertainment organisations from across the world to host events at our venues.
DSC will have an annual calendar of events, which will include existing high-profile events in Dubai as well as new events matching world sporting calendar.
Our long-term goal is to bid for world-class events and make them a permanent feature in Dubai. You should know that we already have a dedicated team at the sports city to prepare a year-round calendar of sports and entertainment events.
Has the project cost of DSC escalated since it was launched? How are you planning to offset these increases?
No construction project, however large or small, is immune to negative market forces, primarily inflation. Our budgeting model has allowed us to manage these challenges.
Do you plan to have any sports personality as your brand ambassador?
DSC continues to form long-term strategic partnerships with the best of the best in the sporting world. We have taken world-renowned sports academies onboard, from the first purpose-built Manchester United Soccer Schools facility to the International Cricket Council’s own ICC Global Cricket Academy.
There will be a David Lloyd Tennis Academy and the first Butch Harmon School of Golf outside the US. What lends credibility to our association with these world-renowned brands is that they are not just providing their names to the project but are actively involved in the management and running of their respective entities.
To answer your question, the big brands we have associated with are our brand ambassadors, each holding great names associated with them and having a personal interest and involvement with what we are creating.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who is the manager of Manchester United, has visited us on numerous occasions and has always endorsed our endeavours and continues to take a personal interest in the project’s progress.
Ernie Els, our design partner for the golf course, has been involved in the design process at every step of the way. It is our intention, with him, to create a golf course that will be world-class and at the forefront of golf evolution. It is a great endorsement of what we have achieved that Ernie himself suggested naming the course as the world’s first location of The Els Club concept.
Recruiting experienced and talented people in the real estate sector is becoming an arduous task.
How are you going to attract talented people?
Yes, getting talented people, especially with real estate expertise, is a tough task. However, being a multi-faceted and mega development, we have been quite lucky on the human resources front. Our three partners are astute businessmen with a wealth of regional and international experience and have guided us through the process.
How are you different from other developers who are launching similar academies in Dubai? Will you be a training ground for Emiratis looking to excel in sports?
Our main goal is to put Dubai on the world sporting map. We know we are not covering the entire gamut of sports activities and we see other facilities being announced to complement Sheikh Mohammed’s vision for Dubai. All of this is not just good, it is great for Dubai.
With regard to Emiratis, it is a clear mission of DSC to assist with the development of sports in the emirate, not only at the elite level but also to make sports more accessible to the whole population here, and Emiratis in particular.
The GCC market has a lot of potential to grow. When you compare it to more mature markets, Dubai continues to be a very affordable alternative and has great prospects.
Khalid Al Zarooni
President, Dubai Sports City
Al Zarooni graduated from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
He has since been actively associated with various companies, both as an owner and a senior executive. He is also director of the Al Zarooni Group of Companies, which is in the business of real estate, wholesale food and foodstuffs, construction, construction-related materials, industrial plastics, industrial garments and other industry-related components locally, regionally and internationally.
Al Zarooni has been instrumental in the formation of Dubai Sports City and has played a pivotal role in moving the project forward to its current stage.
Putting Dubai on the world sporting map