Will Singapore match the UAE sports challenge?

Can Singapore's new Sports Hub compete against massive petrodollar investments on the sand dunes of the United Arab Emirates? "We are building world-class sporting facilities with the aim of bringing serious, world-class sport," said Englishman Malcolm Thorpe, marketing director for Dubai Sports City. "People are very used to going to the States and seeing fantastic sporting facilities anywhere you go. People don't say that about the Middle East [however] It's not just in the Middle East, but in Asia and what is known as the developing world, the culture of sports is going to drive very fast forward," he told The Star (Malaysia)

With a population of about 1.5 million, Dubai has broken ground on its Sports City, a $2 billion complex hosting five primary sports venues: a 60,000-seat outdoor stadium, a 25,000-seat cricket stadium, a 10,000-seat indoor arena, a 5,000- to 10,000-seat field hockey and and athletics venue and an Els-designed golf course. Manchester United has opened a football academy there and the ICC, which governs world cricket, relocated from London last year and is planning a training academy. American Butch Harmon is opening a golf school and David Lloyd is doing the same in tennis.

With a population of 850,000, Doha, the capital of UAE neighbour Qatar, has budgeted about $2.8 billion for the 1-5 December Asian Games, including about $700 million for its Sports City project. The centerpiece is the 50,000-seat Khalifa stadium, opened in 1976 and recently remodeled. The 15,000-seat Aspire Hall, completed last year, will host many of the Asian Games' events. Organizers also have built a 2,000-seat basketball arena and a neighboring aquatic center. The Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence opened in 2004 and is training 140 student-athletes - 75 percent from Qatar. Organizers expect 450 in five years, with a goal of 1,000. The academy also hopes to add 70 women by 2009. It already has coaches from 20 countries and has recruited athletes from Africa - and there are plans to recruit Brazilians - to beef up the football academy.

"This will confirm the position of Qatar on the map of sport business," said Abdulla Khalid Al Qahtani, director general of the Asian Games Organizing Committee. "Hopefully by the end of the games, we'll be the center of sport excellence in the Middle East and be recognized as a center of excellence in Asia."

Other Gulf states are constructing sports venues. The Formula One season began last month in Bahrain at a 2-year-old track. In Oman, a leisure-based facility called Blue City is planned to house sports venues and training academies.

See also: Singapore tenders for new national sports complex (1 Jan) and Local challenge to Man United's Dubai Academy (10 Nov 05) and Dubai targets football and global sports business (25 Sep 05)