(Q) Why Dubai?
(A) Las Vegas notwithstanding, you wouldn't normally look to the desert to find world-class sporting events. Yet in the last few years Dubai, a city of 675,000 in the United Arab Emirates, has become a sports mecca. For example, Tiger Woods played in the Dubai Desert Classic last week, and two weeks ago Martina Hingis competed in the Dubai Tennis Championships. On March 24 top thoroughbreds will race in the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race.
How did this desert city become such a sports oasis? Credit Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai. In the mid-'80s the sheikh, looking to decrease Dubai's dependence on oil, decided to pump up the city's presence as a tourist destination. World-class sports events were part of the plan. By '96 a city that had had no grass golf courses, no tennis stadiums and no racetracks had all three. Lavish appearance fees (Woods was reportedly paid $2 million) and rich purses ($6 million for the World Cup) got the attention of the sporting elite. "The people in charge are prepared to throw money at anything," says Desert Classic director Bob Wilkinson. "They're used to the best, so they know you have to pay for the best."