View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Monday, August 11, 2008

UAE Must Improve Environmental Record to Win Olympic Games

It is a new experience watching the television coverage of the Olympic Games from the UAE and so far it has been a positive one. The Dubai Sports channels and the Abu Dhabi Sports channel have been telecasting the Beijing Games with some of the commentary in English (with Australasian accents), some in Arabic and the rest a mixture of the two.

When watching the Los Angeles (1984) Games coverage from the USA it seemed that there were no other countries competing. Patriotism and razzle-dazzle was similarly served when viewing various Games (1992, 1996 and 2000) from Australia. Coverage was overwhelmingly focused on the events in which the Aussies were strong and where the precious metals were likely to be won.

The coverage of the Beijing Games has a bias towards the events that UAE spectators are likely to enjoy but to a much lesser degree. This young country has a short Olympic history with only one gold medal in the display cabinet (won by Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Hasher Al Maktoum at the 2004 Athens Olympics).

The Emirates has sent eight athletes to China so only a few events must be covered. As these athletes will compete in shooting, taekwondo, equestrian, judo, sailing, swimming and athletics, the local broadcasters are likely to ensure that there is ample coverage of lesser-known sports.

Some have wondered about the extent to which Islamic dress codes preclude the participation of female athletes, especially in sports where competitors traditionally wear skimpy, closely fitting attire. UAE athletes that have appeared on television for interviews have been decked out in western-styled clothing and female head coverings have been non-existent.

Going for Gold
Taekwondo competitor, Shaikha Maitha Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who carried the UAE flag during the opening ceremony, was interviewed on Saturday and the words on her shirt expressed her winning intention—‘GOING FOR GOLD’. But what sort of gold do these competitors have in their sights? UAE leaders have promised Dh1 million for any UAE athlete bringing home a gold medal, Dh750,000 for silver and Dh500,000 for bronze.

Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Hasher Al Maktoum, who has been tipped as the country’s most promising medal prospect in Beijing, has been critical of UAE government and sporting leaders for their over investment in the country’s football future to the detriment of encouraging an interest and expertise in other sports.

UAE Staging Future Olympics?
In April of this year rumours were confirmed that Dubai is drawing up plans to bid for the Olympic Games. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE, revealed his intention that he was developing an Olympic bid. He declined to give further details and did not name a target year to host the games.

Dubai Sport City, which is currently being constructed, would provide a potential venue for the games. The custom-built complex, which will be one of the largest sports complexes in the world, will feature a 25,000-seater cricket stadium, a 60,000-seater outdoor arena that could hold track and field events, and a 10,000-seater multi-purpose indoor arena.

Proving to the Olympic Committee that this oil-rich nation can erect sensational sporting facilities within agreed timetables will not be a problem. However, the Chinese Games experience with the chequered course of its torch relay has highlighted how much work has got to be achieved by a bidding country in the realm of human rights. The UAE has been making big strides in this area but there are significant steps still to be taken, especially in the country’s treatment of migrant workers, the granting of full religious freedom, the progress towards press freedom, the relaxation of censorship laws (including the unblocking of Internet sites that appeal for human rights) and the removal of laws that discriminate against Israelis and homosexuals.

When in 1993 Sydney lodged its winning bid to host the 2000 Games, it included a crucial document that contained 100 environmental commitments. Sydney vowed to develop a waste management system that was efficient and environmentally friendly. In particular the environmental policy was based on principles that stated that everyone is to be 100 percent responsible for the environment and waste is a secondary resource that can be reprocessed.

The dozen oil slicks already this year on the UAE’s east coast has become an environmental catastrophe that UAE leaders must address with urgency.

If the UAE is astute in its Olympic bid, it will learn from Sydney, shuffle off its reputation as the nation with the biggest ecological footprint and make giant strides to achieve gold in caring for the environment.

Dr Geoff Pound

Related Articles:
East Coast Oil Slicks Require National Solution, Experiencing the Emirates.
Oil Slicks AGAIN on UAE East Coast, Fujairah in Focus.