It's no secret, says Dubai Sports City general manager Maqbul Dudhia, that the tiny desert sheikhdom harbours big ambitions of hosting the Olympic Games. And if the city which boasts the world's tallest building - from which Tom Cruise defied gravity in the last Mission Impossible movie - has set its sights on hosting the world's biggest circus, then make no mistake it will be a serious contender come 2024 or 2028.
Dubai's test run could well be the 2023 Asian Games. Last month, on the eve of the Olympic Council of Asia voting for the 2019 host city, Dubai pulled out in favour of Hanoi, which beat Indonesia's second-largest city Surabaya, after an agreement had been reached by the power-brokers that Dubai would be given the Asian Games in 2023.
No one is talking in Dubai, my home for the past couple of weeks, where the bureaucracy is even more strait-laced than Hong Kong. But there has been a nudge-nudge, wink-wink feeling to suggest the Asian Games will be returning to west Asia in 2023 for the first time since Qatar hosted the showpiece in 2006. Since then, Qatar has gone on to win the bid to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, proving what money - and gas - can buy you these days. Dubai has similar ambitions and is now eyeing an Olympic Games.
"The Dubai government wants to host the Olympics one day. They [the International Olympic Committee] have been in touch with us, asking if Dubai has the capability of hosting an Olympics," revealed Dudhia.
While Hong Kong still vacillates on how to go ahead with its sports hub at Kai Tak - the government will only make a decision early next year on how to finance the HK$19 billion project - Dubai is putting in place all the building blocks needed to host mega multi-sports events in the future. The biggest difference between Hong Kong and Dubai is the speed at which things get done. In Dubai, if its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has an urge to build the world's tallest building or the grandest sporting hub, it gets done in the blink of an eye.
Dubai Sports City is a private enterprise built on land allocated by the government. The 50 million square foot project, estimated to cost US$4 billion, was set for completion next year but work has been slowed due to the global economic downturn. Among the projects completed is an international stadium, an 18-hole golf course designed by Ernie Els, a cricket academy which also houses the sport's world governing body, the International Cricket Council, and a football academy where Spanish-style soccer is taught. Work is going ahead on a 60,000-seater multi-purpose arena for everything from track and field to soccer and an indoor arena for 10,000 to 15,000 fans who can watch anything from basketball and badminton to ice hockey and figure skating. Dudhia says if not for the "world being rendered askew", Dubai Sports City would have been up and running in the next few months. But even during the bad times, work went ahead on this project owned by three partners. The projected date for completion is now 2018.
This was also the initial date of completion for Hong Kong's sports hub at Kai Tak but we will be lucky to have it completed by 2020, which places in jeopardy the one realistic goal we had - hosting a few matches of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Forget the bid for the 2023 Asian Games. That looks far-fetched considering our showpiece stadium might not be ready anytime close to that date. But this bid needed the help of the government and with it dragging its feet, and now with Dubai all but certain of hosting those 2023 Games, it is dead in the water. What is sad is that even private enterprise, something Hong Kong has always taken pride in, might not pay off - if the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union cannot convince Japan and the International Rugby Board the facilities will be in place before 2019, we stand little chance of hosting a few matches here.
Hong Kong seems to be losing its vibrancy and can-do spirit to places like Dubai, which also has an eye on hosting the World Expo in 2020. Dubai, like Singapore closer to home, seems to have a vision . We are way behind. It is time to get our act together, and let's hope one of the first decisions the government makes in the new year will be to put in place the funding process for the sports hub so work can start immediately.