Dubai: Sports Playground for the Ultra-Rich

So the next time you see a report about suicide bombers blowing up markets in Iraq, or Israel shelling Lebanon, or Iran's president talking about the destruction of Israel, or Dick Cheney issuing warnings from the deck of an aircraft carrier, or any other news from the many violent clashes over religion, culture, geography or oil in this part of the world, you should bear this in mind: Part of this same neighborhood considers sports more important to its future than oil. Far from damning and shunning the West, Dubai would very much like you to visit and watch a horse race, golf 18 holes, play some tennis or even ski. Rather than fight over fundamentalist Muslim, Christian or Jewish beliefs, Dubai is partly betting its future on the new world religion of sports.

That might not provide much reassurance or hope amid the turmoil, but at least it's something.

It's Snowing in the Desert

Dubai is the second richest -- behind Abu Dhabi -- of the seven emirates comprising the United Arab Emirates that stretch along a narrow crescent between Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. It has surprisingly little oil, though. So little, in fact, that production made up only 6 percent of Dubai's gross national product last year, a figure that will continue to decline until the oil wells run dry within a decade. Dubai relies instead on free trade, heavy corporate investment -- it has no taxes (a prime draw for Halliburton's move here) -- and tourism.

This is where sports fit into the overall vision for Dubai as seen by Sheikh Mohammed.

According to Rashid Al Kamali of the Dubai Sports Council, "the goal is to use sport as a platform to attract global exposure for Dubai." It already has. Television cameras bring Dubai into living rooms around the world via the annual Desert Classic golf tournament (you probably saw Tiger Woods teeing off against the city skyline in February), the Dubai Duty Free tennis tournament (maybe you saw Andre Agassi and Roger Federer playing on the helipad atop the 1,000-foot high Burj Al Arab hotel) and, of course, the World Cup horse race.

And that's just the beginning.

Construction of the first Tiger Woods golf course -- Al Ruwaya -- is under way here, with plans including 300 luxury villas, 20 mansions, an 80-room boutique hotel and a shopping area. Cricket is moving its ICC world headquarters here. Manchester United will open a soccer academy here. Sheikh Mohammed and the royal family just announced plans for Meydan, a 67-million-square-foot horse track and development with the hope of one day landing the Breeder's Cup. Rising from the sands southwest of Dubai already is Dubai Sports City, a $3.5 billion, 50-million-square-foot housing, recreation and entertainment development that will one day be home to 65,000 sports fans. "This will give you a chance to live sports," says Dubai Sports City chief executive U. Balasubramaniam.

Live it? The only thing missing from the Dubai Sports City blueprint is a "SportsCenter" studio. The Ernie Els golf course that winds among the luxury villas, townhomes, hotels and a shopping mall will open in the fall. ManU's soccer academy will compete for students with a Butch Harmon golf school and a David Lloyd Tennis Academy. There will be a cricket stadium, a 10,000-seat tennis and ice hockey arena (yes, ice hockey) and a 60,000-seat main stadium. Naturally, you'll have to pay to use or attend those facilities, but you will avoid the bane of all fans -- postgame traffic.

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