Hot seat: Malcolm Thorpe

Is talk of Dubai bidding for the Olympics more than mere speculation? <em>Time Out</em> talks to Malcolm Thorpe, marketing director of sports business at Dubai Sports City, to find out.

Hot seat, The Knowledge

Do think a bid is a real possibility?
I think Dubai has an ambition to bid – it has been talked about at the highest levels. Doha just missed out on 2016, so 2020 is the next slot to bid for. It’s unusual to win the first time, so you might say 2024 or 2028 are more realistic targets. But there are so many other considerations in how it would fit in with the strategy of the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

And Dubai has a habit of pulling off the improbable...
Well yes. The Doha bid was rejected because they were proposing an October date and the IOC said it didn’t fi t in with their schedule. Doha’s reaction was: ‘Does that mean a Middle Eastern country is effectively excluded from bidding again?’ and the IOC reply was: ‘Never say never’.

So you can’t just move all the sports indoors?
There are a lot of sports that you just can’t play indoors – the marathon being an obvious example.

Has Dubai Sports City been designed with the Olympics in mind?
Our vision is to be successful without needing to rely on any particular event. The fact that we have built venues capable of hosting huge events is behind the overall vision of Dubai, but we have a cricket stadium and golf course – neither of which are Olympic sports. We don’t have a Velodrome or full aquatic centre, but we do have many other facilities that would be suitable. If there was to be a bid, it would come through the National Olympic Committee, not Dubai Sports City, though we would do everything we could to support it and we would have facilities that could be utilised.

Can the Olympic Games be commercially successful?
You have to differentiate between infrastructure and games costs. The IOC is able to raise massive revenue through sponsorship and TV rights and so can the cities. For example, the Beijing Olympic Committee is selling purely local sponsorship packages for around US$100 million dollars each. So the ability to generate revenue is substantial. Clearly the event on its own doesn’t cover all the building expenses, but cities use it as a platform for regeneration.

Are there enough people here to make up the required audience?
Tens of thousands of visitors already come to Dubai every week, and those numbers are only going to go up. And people travel for sports events – 25,000 people travelled from the UK to New Zealand to watch the British Lions in 2005. That’s for two or three rugby matches.

So you’re quietly confident?
Clearly there are a number of challenges, but I can see the Middle East as a venue gaining a lot of political support. The Olympics is all about bringing countries together and using Dubai to do this would be a very popular move. You do have to remember that it is an especially competitive process for selection, which comes down to about 100 people in the IOC, but it definitely makes sense.

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