Kevin Garside: Sport in the desert – it's one of the great illusions of the age

The Way I See It: More watch Bognor Regis in the Ryman League than the UAE in Abu Dhabi

A selection of the world's greatest golfers were not the only thrill-seekers in Dubai last week. Rafa Benitez negotiated his appointment as Chelsea manager while holidaying in the Emirate. By coincidence Chelsea captain John Terry was lounging by a pool on the fabled Palm when the news broke of Roberto Di Matteo's demise. Maybe Rafa and JT hatched the plan together over dinner at Atlantis.

"John, why don't you give Roman a bell and tell him I'll keep the place tidy for six months until Pep is ready to take over?"

"Leave it to me. Boss."

Benitez was quickly into his stride, signing the shirt of a Chelsea fan in a bar by the World Trade Centre before departing for his press conference at the Bridge.

That the machinations of a club dominating English football's news cycle should play out in Dubai is weird, yet fitting. This place was at the centre of the golfing world last week, hosting Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood et al, yet nowhere near the heart of the sport.

There is an essential absurdity about playing and watching golf, or any other sport for that matter, in the desert. The 18-hole ribbon of green that threads through a land where little grows of its own accord is a triumph of engineering over common sense, a towering testament to the power of man's ingenuity over nature. The view from the Earth Course back towards the shores of the Persian Gulf offers further proof of what is possible, for there, clustered in all its gauche glory, shimmers Dubai's tribute to the Manhattan skyline.

For citizens of Chelsea and expat professionals banking their tax-free wedge, with an apartment on the Corniche and a membership at the Jumeirah Estates golf complex, time spent in the United Arab Emirates must make some kind of sense. But for this episodic visitor, steeped in the mores of an established sporting culture, there is a huge hole at the centre of the enterprise.

Personal misgivings are not related to the swathes of unfinished building projects that litter the landscape or the proclivities of those who choose to live the Dubai life. For an event to have meaning and relevance it requires people to care about the outcome.

World No 1 McIlroy walked out on Thursday for his opening round almost hand in hand with his partner Caroline Wozniacki. The pair engaged in audible conversation as he followed his ball down the 10th fairway. They might have been walking the dog in Monaco. The attending marshals were superfluous since hardly anybody was watching. Never has £1.6m, the potential prize fund available to the winner of the tournament, and the bonus pool jackpot that accompanied it, been contested before so few.

Eleven days ago, the UAE national football team played Estonia in Abu Dhabi. Fewer than 300 turned up. They get more than that at Bognor Regis in the Ryman League. Dubai boasts the largest grandstand of any horseracing venue in the world at the Meydan Racecourse. It is a mile long with a capacity of 60,000. Last Thursday evening, a media delegation from the DP World Tour Championship, amounting to 20-odd blokes on a bus, must have doubled the attendance. From the Sheikh Zayed Road, the main artery running through the centre of Dubai, the vast sweep of metal and glass on the horizon has no greater function than a massive lightbulb illuminating a vast stretch of nothingness.

The importing of sporting events without a culture to underpin them is not unique to the UAE. The development was pioneered by Formula One with races in Malaysia, China, Turkey, Bahrain, Singapore and India as well as Abu Dhabi playing out in front of negligible crowds, save for the expats who roll up on Sundays.

The value for this state-backed indulgence is geo-political, the return on investment measured in the increased awareness generated by sports that play out to huge global television audiences. It does not matter that the galleries are sparsely populated. The Olympic Games in China was one of the great illusions of the modern age, projecting a sense of occasion via television that was largely absent in the Olympic village and wider Beijing. The World Cup in Qatar will follow Beijing into that slot when it hosts the World Cup in 2022. The greatest show on earth will play out across 12 stadia in one city, Doha. It will be the first World Cup without taxi receipts since all the arenas are connected by the metro system. The whole event will be negotiated by tube. The next tranche of spending is to be unleashed in the middle part of next year when infrastructure work continues at the five venues yet to be built.

Fear not: the great metropolis that dominates the Doha skyline today was a model sitting on a planner's desk in 2003. The city went up in the space of five years, built on the back of vast reserves of liquid petroleum gas. The World Cup, irrelevant to the people of Qatar, will work, just as the golf did last week, made for TV in defiance of the local culture and landscape.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions