Rugby Sevens venue emerges from Dubai sands

By Grant Bradley

Near abandoned camel farms in the desert, another of Dubai's construction feats is nearing completion.

From the sand is emerging a rugby complex to seat 40,000 fans for next year's Rugby World Sevens and the first round of the annual world sevens circuit starting on November 27.

Steering the project is Gary Chapman, a New Zealander who is Emirates Airline's president of group services and its logistics and tourism business, Dnata.

The 423-day construction timetable would be the envy of most stadium projects around the world.

Chapman has been with the airline since 1987 and several years ago was shoulder tapped to take charge of the airline's growing commitment to rugby sponsorship.

"I was the New Zealander so they thought I must be interested in rugby," he said in the venue 30 minutes' drive from Dubai city centre.

About 120,000cu m of water a day, most from deep wells, will ensure the six pitches retain their bowling green look where it rains a handful of times a year.

Chapman is reluctant to be drawn on details of Emirates' financial commitment to the venue, saying only it would be more than $100 million and is very much in keeping with the airline's growing portfolio of sports sponsorships.

Last month the airline signed up as the first major sponsor to the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, following its sponsorship of last year's event, and has renewed its commitment to Team New Zealand for the next three years.

Among other big sponsorships, the 23-year-old airline is backing the football world cup and was seen prominently at the finishing post at the Melbourne Cup.

Emirates is not building a rugby complex in the desert just for the love of sport. Dubai is rushing to create as many reasons to visit as possible to provide long-term revenue when its oil runs out next decade.

Chapman says rugby in the emirate was originally played on sand over 40 years ago. It began with a small group of British expatriates who founded the Exiles Club. Growth was rapid, despite an early minor setback when a line of telegraph poles was built up the middle of the sand pitch at the ground at Al Awir, 10km out of Dubai. Matches were first played on grass in 1995 and three years later Dubai joined the international sevens circuit.

The new venue, known as The Sevens, will be partially completed by the end of the month and fully operational for the sevens world cup next March.

Around 1200 workers have been toiling on the project. The Sevens' permanent grandstand will have 4000 seats and temporary stands will cater for up to 40,000 people.

- NZ Herald

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