Valencia Sailing talks to Dr Khater Massaad
Dr Khater Massaad is Advisor to H.H. Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah. As well as being Sheikh Saud's Advisor, he is also the CEO of RAK Ceramics and of RAK Airways and is the Executive Chairman of Rakeem, the company set up to be the master-planner and developer in real estate and township development within the Emirate and overseas.
Why then should Valencia Sailing be talking to Dr Massaad? Because he played a pivotal role in establishing the virtually unknown emirate of Ras Al Khaimah as the venue of the 33rd America's Cup. We talked to Dr Massaad about the emirate and its involvement in the world's oldest sports trophy.
Valencia Sailing: Why did Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) decide to host the America's Cup?
Dr Khater Massaad: It's very simple, the America's Cup is a prestigious, big and interesting event and we thought it would great to have it here.
Valencia Sailing: Did you approach Alinghi first or was it the other way round?
Dr Khater Massaad: No, we approached Alinghi first. We held discussions with them, we showed them the place, they were very happy with it and they took the decision to come here. The whole process, from the first contact until the final signature of the contract took approximately 3 months.
Valencia Sailing: Did the fact you are a Swiss citizen and alumni of the EPFL (the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Lausanne) play a role in the selection process?
Dr Khater Massaad: It definitely played a role. I have a lot of friends from the EPFL that also have good relations with Alinghi and this certainly helped.
Valencia Sailing: Were you a personal friend of Ernesto Bertarelli's?
Dr Khater Massaad: No, I was not a friend of his at all. I first met him only when we started discussing with Alinghi about the America's Cup.
Valencia Sailing: In the 32nd America's Cup, Valencia paid Alinghi a significant fee in order to be the host city. What fee did RAK pay this time?
Dr Khater Massaad: Nothing at all, we didn't pay any money. We only agreed that we would provide the necessary infrastructure. In addition, one of our companies decided to become a small sponsor of the event but that was after the signature of the agreement with Alinghi. As I told you, Ras Al Khaimah didn't pay any money for the right to have the 33rd America's Cup here.
Aerial view of Ras Al Khaimah and the venue of the 33rd America's Cup. Video copyright RAK Tourism
Valencia Sailing: Talking about the infrastructure necessary for such an event, less than 6 months are left before everything has to be ready and running. Do you think you will be able to make it?
Dr Khater Massaad: The infrastructure is ready. We have a beautiful island of 220,000 square meters, a beautiful lagoon and everything is ready now. What we are doing is the beautification of the venue and the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. The Crown Prince is taking this event as an opportunity to make significant infrastructure investments for Ras Al Khaimah but the infrastructure for the event itself is ready. The island is ready but the government is spending around 100 million US dollars for general infrastructure in the emirate as a whole.
Valencia Sailing: Regarding your emirate, BMW Oracle’s owner Larry Ellison voiced his concern, mainly, over the security, or potential lack of it, due to the proximity to Iran. Is there a reason for a US sports team to feel unsecure in RAK?
Dr Khater Massaad: No, there is no reason at all. First of all, Iran is 100 miles away. Secondly, Ras Al Khaimah is part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a sovereign country that is friendly with everybody and has good relations will all nations. The UAE are a growing tourist destination and we have now close to 10 million tourists that visit each year. There are many foreign companies established here and many foreigners live permanently here, peacefully and with no security problem whatsoever. There has never been any security concern so far in the UAE and I don't see any reason why we should have any now!!
Valencia Sailing: Yes, but unlike the previous event in Valencia, where the race courses were 2-3 miles long, next February the 2 yachts will have to sail for 20 miles. Is there a possibility they could enter or get near an area of disputed territorial waters?
Dr Khater Massaad: No, absolutely none. I know that this time the race course will be much longer but the UAE waters stretch 50 miles from Ras al Khaimah and I can guarantee all the 2 yachts will meet are our emirate's beautiful and clear waters.
Valencia Sailing: Another issue Larry Ellison mentioned was electricity supply. There are reports in the internet of a chronic problem in RAK that results in frequent power outages. Could the America’s Cup face such problems?
Dr Khater Massaad: No, no, there is no problem at all. On the contrary, two weeks we started the operation of two new power generation plants and in fact we now have excess electricity. There will be NO problem whatsoever with electricity, water or any other facilities. Everything is already available.
Valencia Sailing: You will provide all the infrastructure but will the authorities of the emirate be involved with the organization of the event? Or is it going to be run only by Alinghi?
Dr Khater Massaad: No, the organization of the event itself will solely be done by the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. We will organize the venue, the event, the hospitality, everything. We will organize everything for both teams and it has been clear from the very beginning that both teams will enjoy the same quality of facilities, and this is what we will do.
Valencia Sailing: I know very little about your emirate but certainly in sailing you are a newcomer. Ras al Khaimah has never organized any international sailing event, let alone something similar to the pinnacle of the sport of sailing. Isn't this going to be a problem?
Dr Khater Massaad: There will be no problem at all. As you know there are many important international companies organizing sailing events and we will use them. In fact, some of them already worked in Valencia. As a result, Ras al Khaimah will have no problem at all organizing such an important event. Finally, we have the unconditional support of the UAE sailing federation and they are very happy with it.
Valencia Sailing: The UAE are quite far from Europe or the US. Do you expect large numbers of visitors from those countries or mostly locals and Asians?
Dr Khater Massaad: We expect visitors from the entire world. We already have contacts in Europe and the US, and of course here in the UAE, that have shown great interest.
Valencia Sailing: The selection of your emirate as the venue of the 33rd America's Cup might be challenged in court by BMW Oracle. The worst case scenario for you would be that the judges find that the race can't be held in Ras al Khaimah next February. What have you planned in that case?
Dr Khater Massaad: I think the America's Cup should come here and we all hope there is no problem. There is no reason why the Americans shouldn't come, they are more than welcome here and we look forward to having them. Until now they haven't officially rejected the venue and we hope the two teams settle the situation.
Valencia Sailing: Last but not least, have you had any contact with BMW Oracle? Has anyone from the US team visited Ras al Khaimah?
Dr Khater Massaad: Our tourist department has informed us that representatives from both teams will soon come to Ras al Khaimah to view and check the venue and discuss about it. We will obviously welcome both of them and do whatever we can to help them.