Sunday, January 15, 2012

Postcard from Dubai

Dubai is a city of skeletons. Everywhere you look, particularly around Sports City where I am covering England's cricket tour against Pakistan, you see half-built shells of buildings. High-rise concrete frames waiting for the gaps to be filled in, yet no sign of anyone working.

No one has worked on them for quite some time. The skyline is full of unmoving cranes. One hopes that they are not leased by the day. This is a stagnant economy, a tourist resort built both literally and figuratively on sand.

If you search online for images of Sports City, all you will find are CGIs. It will look great when - if ever - it gets built.

It is a curious place to be watching cricket, although there can be no complaints about the stadium where the Test match starts on Tuesday or the ICC Global Cricket Academy down the road where England have been practising.

The facilities there are first-class, designed to replicate conditions around the world. The main square is laid half with soil from Lahore and half from the Gabba in Brisbane. The outdoor nets have been imported from other countries, including English clay wickets, while the indoor ones have different surfaces to allow you to practise on spin and pace-friendly pitches. It is an oasis surrounded by acres of neglect.

We're deliberating what to call the two ends at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium (right). Possibly the Building Site End and the Unbuilt Mall End. In the near distance, a canal network has been dug, with elaborate but unfinished Venetian-style bridges poured in concrete but undecorated at regular intervals. A scaffold-clad block of would-be Italianate villas stands dusty and ignored.

“All buildings in Dubai are either half-built or they are fantastic,” an expat said to me last week, but Dubai has long had a dichotomy. This is my fifth visit, having been to a few rugby sevens tournaments and the sevens World Cup in 2003. They are always great fun and a huge piss-up, which contradicts the stories you hear of people being thrown in prison for being drunk.

The Dubai Sevens is the only sports event I have been to where they check your bags for alcohol as you leave the ground – drink all you want in western company but don't touch a drop in front of the locals. There is similar hypocrisy in attitudes towards sex. Public displays of affection are frowned on, you are told, but in certain hotel bars and even as you wait in line for a taxi the amount of very evident prostitution is shocking.

A near-slave workforce from Asia has created this country out of nothing – the UAE only came into existence 41 years ago – but now there is no money to complete their works and many of the workers are unpaid and unable to return home.

Dubai has an Ozymandias feeling to it: a multitude of vast and trunkless legs of concrete. Shelley's poem could sum up the Dubai of the future: “Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.” It is indeed an odd place to play cricket.


Pam Nash said...

Great blog & wonderfully apposite Shelley all I need is for the cricket to start!

Paddy said...

Thanks Pam. Only 36 hours or so...

Charis Croft said...

I agree with Pam! Wonderfully evocative piece. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Splendid stuff Patrick, as always.. Keep up the good work.

Prasad R