Dubai Sports City Khalid Al Zarooni interview

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Dubai Sports City Khalid Al Zarooni interview

Postby shawarma » 04 Dec 2007, 11:32

See also main Dubai Sports City topic, and Dubai Sports City information page.

Interview with the president, Khalid Al Zarooni, in Emirates Today 27 Sep 2007...

Part one of a two-part interview with president of Dubai Sports City – Khalid Al Zarooni

‘We can’t just be a stadium in the desert’

If you want to be the best, you have to get the best.

It’s probably been said a million times in any business, but none more suitable than in sport. From the chairman to the coach, it’s the kind of ambitious attitude that is seen as the near-guarantee for success.

It’s something Khalid Al Zarooni is a firm believer in as he tries to create a dynasty at Dubai Sports City that will leave a legacy in years to come.

The $3billion (Dh10.95bn) project is a dream of three UAE businessmen; his father Abdul Rahim Al Zarooni, Abdul Rahman Bukhatir and Abdul Rahman Falaknaz.

“What I want in 10 to 15 years is that this project will have its own story,” says Zarooni confidently.

“We are putting the engine together for sport in this region. Every engine needs to have fuel to make it run.

“In the future is when we will know if this has been a success. In the beginning the project was just to build a cricket and hockey stadium.

“Then, through the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, [VicePresident and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai], we went through mega projects in Dubai like Media City.

“We saw there was a gap in sports and the idea has grown since. The partners started it and I am following it on to see it grow [Inshallah].” Grown it has and the potential seems endless when it finally opens next year.

The Sports City plan features four stadiums, a 60,000 outdoor stadium, 25,000 allseater cricket stadium, a 10,000-seater field hockey stadium and a 10,000-seater indoor arena, as well as a golf course designed by Ernie Els and a star-studded number of academies and schools.

“We looked at the different sports and what was needed,” adds Zarooni.

“We highlighted the sports that people were interested in and the ones that people in the region could excel in.

“We talked to Real Madrid about a soccer school, but we chose Manchester United.

“The reason we did that was because we did not go just for the name.

“We saw they did not just go out and spend lots of money on players, but they had developed a system, which brought players through their youth programmes and turn them into top players.

“We wanted a genuine coaching system. That was important for us because that’s what we are trying to do here in Dubai.

“They have an institution in training. They are the best.

“In golf, they don’t come bigger than Butch Harmon.

“He is former coach of Tiger Woods and considered the No1 coach in the world.

“Golf is growing so much here. The locals are getting involved and there are more people coming from overseas.

“For tennis, we have David Lloyd, and he is behind one of the fastest-growing clubs around the world.

“He helped Tim Henman get started and become one of the world’s top players. But we are putting things back in with academies and education.” Don’t forget the first-ever ICC global cricket academy too with the International Cricket Council behind that, and Australian legend Rod Marsh in charge.

“The ICC could have gone anywhere,” says Zarooni.

“It’s like getting Fifa to come to somewhere they don’t play football. The ICC could have gone to India, Pakistan, nations with a big cricketing history.

“For the UAE to have the first global cricket academy is a coup.The ICC achievement will go down in history.

“In terms of cricket we have got an institution.” It’s an impressive clientele, but Zarooni knows that will count for little as they bid to create their field of dreams.

Many property developments around the complex will also help as he adds: “We can’t just be a stadium in the desert. We have to be more than that.

“If you build a stadium and that’s it then what will happen with it if its not being used? We want to provide for a full spectrum of sports.

“The commercial and residential developments will support it. It’s unique.

“It is a sports and commercial marketing department.

“Dubai, being in the Middle East, is a hub for a lot of things, but I still feel so much more can be done to bring the events to the region.

“It’s like you look around a city like London, which has lots of theatres, and and you think, where are Dubai’s?

“Where are the sporting venues to put on shows here?” Once the venues are in place, Al Zarooni is hoping it will lead to a conveyor belt of sports stars coming out of the UAE for years to come.

“My ambition is to create teams in Dubai through all of this; they will be able to compete at the highest level. From the junior leagues right up to the Premier League. We will have the facilities to produce athletes for the future.

“In the last 25 years we have lost the chance of producing many athletes. We believe our facilities will provide the platform for sports stars. It is the first step to their goal.

“We will put them on the path through our academies and sports schools.

“We don’t want them to go to a camp, learn nothing and say they got a T-shirt.

“We want them to learn something and keep coming back to learn more.

“We are not saying you are going to be a Tiger Woods, a Diego Maradona or even a Andre Agassi.

“What we are saying is, ‘We are giving you the system and we think you will achieve it’.

“We are putting them in the right direction.” It seems like Al Zarooni and Sports City are heading in the right direction too as they bid to make their mark.
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Dubai Sports City (DSC) - Khalid Al Zarooni

Postby shawarma » 04 Dec 2007, 11:33

Part 2 of the interview. From Emirates Today 28 September 2007...

Al Zarooni has sky-high aims for Sports City

Khalid Al Zarooni has always reached for the sky to pursue his dreams. He doesn’t think he’s a daredevil, but as he talks to me about two of his greatest passions, I beg to differ.
“I love superbikes and I love to fly,” he says smiling.

I think he’s joking, but he’s not, as I find out why such a high-flier has been charged with helping to create an arena that aims to revolutionise sport in the UAE.

“I used to watch superbike races at Daytona when I was studying business management in America,” he adds.

“I was studying in Nebraska and learned about bikes there. I watched people like Scott Russell and Colin Edwards. I have grown up watching most of these guys.

“I had a lesson at the California Bike School in 1992 with Keith Code.

“It was just something totally different to what I was used to and I enjoyed it.

“I now go to track days at the Dubai Autodrome. I ride a Ducati and MV Augusta.

“People who ride motorcycles can be reckless, but on the track you have to be precise. It is very organised.

“You can’t be reckless, but rational. You have to concentrate. You need to know what you’re doing next.

“I wear protection. Even on a hot summer day I will wear the protective gear.

“You cannot afford to make a mistake. There is little margin for error.” Watching his hero Valentino Rossi might have helped him get it right on the track.

The Italian is a superbikes megastar, winning his seventh world title in 2005. Missing out in the past two years will make him more of a threat.

Al Zarooni is a massive fan, struggling to conceal his admiration for Rossi.

“He is a wonder,” he says. “A phenomenon. One of the top athletes in the world.

“I am sure he would excel in any sport he takes part in. He is one sportsman I would love to talk about his sport.

“I am always checking news and information about him and superbikes, what’s going on, what’s happening.” While bikes might give him thrills on two wheels, he aims a little higher to enjoy his other delight. “I also like to fly; single-engine propellors,” he reveals. “I have my private pilot’s licence. I wanted to do something different.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was young so this was something I tried and, again, I enjoyed it.

“Flying, it is like magic. When you lift off, you feel like you are on a magic carpet.

“It is not scary. I would like to do more.

“Every pilot’s ambition is to fly a jumbo jet, so that would be something special.” Maybe a word with Emirates chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum might help! But life is certainly not “plane” sailing for Al Zarooni as he helps plot the future of sport in the region.

He has to cope with the mammoth project that is Sports City. Costing $3billion (Dh10.95bn), it features four stadiums, elite sports schools, property developments and a signature golf course by South African legend Ernie Els.

It is something that would scare the hell out of a lot of people. Not Al Zarooni, though, as he seems to thrive on the pressure and swapped the family’s real estate and construction business for the world of sport.


To help him learn about new sports, such as golf, he turned to an unusual, but pretty modern, method.

“One of the things I did was I played Tiger Woods on PlayStation 2,” he reveals.

“I got into it myself. I looked at how it works and then the results.

“I did play golf though. I tried a couple of shots with the guys from Troon Golf. It is like chess, very strategic.You have to prepare and get yourself ready, then play.

“The computer game was fun, but it helped! If I do something I am not familiar with, I will research it, like I did with this.

“The whole Sports City project was a challenge for me.

“When I was exposed to it all I enjoyed it. I had done the family business, this was a new one, to build it from the start to the finish.

“It excited me and still does no matter how much hard work is involved. The level of the project is so high profile.

“It is all part of the Ruler’s plan to put Dubai on the world map and I wanted to support the city I have grown up with.

“There’s nothing like Dubai Sports City. It is more than showing off your muscles. We are putting everything down and hoping it will grow.” If you build it, he will come. Those were the prophetic words in Kevin Costner’s baseball movie Field of Dreams.

I won’t spoil the story there, but the message is rather apt when it comes to Dubai Sports City. If they build it, they will come.

Those are the fans, teams and, undoubtedly, more sporting organisations like the International Cricket Council, who swapped their historic Lord’s base to be part of Dubai’s wind of change.


“The potential is here,” adds Al Zarooni. “Look around the whole city.

“See how much progress has been made, how much work has already been done.

“Everyone used to go to Spain for golf, but now they are coming here. Then look at the football. So many more teams are coming here for winter camps. They have to stay in hotels and get buses to the grounds.

“When we open, we will have everything on one site which should be even more convenient for them.

“We know there are other plans and developments in the UAE and the Gulf. We don’t worry about any of them, or think about failing.

“I have always said we should focus on what we had.

“We have a successful ambitious plan and want to achieve our goals.

“If I lose focus then the plan will suffer, I don’t do that.” Staying focused and, crucially, staying positive could well prove key to Al Zarooni’s success and that of Dubai Sports City.
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