Dubai: Sports Playground for the Ultra-Rich

"That shows the difference in the vision here," Balasubramaniam says. "We thought we'd go ahead with a 30,000-, 35,000-seat stadium. His Highness said: 'What are you talking about? Thirty thousand is nothing. Sixty thousand is what we need.' "

Any day, I expect the Florida Marlins to move here.

"Sport is a main part of the attractions to Dubai," says Hamad bin Mejren, manager of Dubai Inward Missions, the commerce and marketing arm of the Dubai government. "You have travelers for different kinds of reasons, and one of these reasons is sports. I go to the football World Cup, I go to the Olympics. That's why I travel. Sometimes we have major sports attractions here and it's not just about the people who come here, it's the publicity we get. Sports are a major part of Dubai. We are called the sporting capital of the Middle East."

The walls of bin Mejren's office are decorated with soccer photos and memorabilia. He played soccer at Pomona College in the late '80s and early '90s and is such a fan of the sport that he delayed his graduation to 1995 so he could be in the United States for the 1994 World Cup.

"The ultimate goals are hosting the World Cup or the Olympics," he says. "We hope we can do that in the future, but we don't expect to have that until 10 or 15 years in the future, at least. But I'm sure Dubai or the Emirates will be able to handle such events."

I assume bin Mejren means the Summer Olympics, but perhaps he's talking about the Winter Games. You never know with Dubai.

After all, the mercury might routinely climb halfway to the boiling point in summer, but Ski Dubai, a snow park inside the vast Mall of the Emirates, is open year round. It has ice sculptures, snowmen and a short bobsled run. There is even the St. Moritz restaurant modeled after a Swiss ski lodge, complete with a flame roaring in a stone fireplace where men in snow-white robes and women in black abayas sit close by, dipping forks into a fondue pot. For an equally ludicrous contradiction to a ski slope in the Arabian desert, Minnesota's Mall of America would have to have a midwinter sand dune park with camels and oil wells.

I huddle in ski pants, ski jacket and gloves then push myself down a snowy slope for my first ski lesson. As skiers and snowboarders whiz by, I slowly gain speed, only to soon lose balance and fall back on my tail. One ski off, one ski on, I flop around in the cold snow trying to get up, struggling very much like Randy in "A Christmas Story." My Moroccan instructor skis over, but he does not help me up.

"You know, it's your fault," he says, his voice failing to hide his disgust. "You must always lean forward. Not backward. Always forward."

Go forward. It's not just a ski lesson, it's modern Dubai in a nutshell. The world's richest horse race, the world's tallest building, artificial islands, Tiger's first golf course, Halliburton's relocation, an Olympic bid, robot camel jockeys (more on those later) ... it's all just a matter of imagination, determination and engineering.

Well, that plus low-paid foreign workers, zero taxes and air conditioning.

Horses That Live Like Rock Stars

There is a 90-meter swimming pool. A private garden. Air conditioning. Skylights. Thirty-foot ceilings. Servants constantly cleaning the quarters and spritzing the occupants.

A scene at the Burj Al-Arab, Dubai's iconic $2,000-a-night "seven-star" hotel? No. The Nad Al Sheba and Zabeel stables .

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