Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Valencia Sailing talks to Saeed Hareb, driving force of Dubai's push into the global sailing scene

During the RC44 Valencia Cup we had the opportunity to catch up with Saeed Hareb, Managing Director of the Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC), who is, undoubtedly, the driving force of Dubai's efforts into becoming a world hub for yachting and water sports. Under Hareb's leadership since 1995, the DIMC has been host to a score of international sailing and motorsport events. Since 2007 the DIMC has held one event of the RC44 Championship every year and since 2008 it is taking part in the circuit with its own boat, Sea Dubai.

Hareb talked about the past, present, and more importantly, future of the DIMC, pointing to an active role in the sport's pinnacle event, the America's Cup, starting with the Louis Vuitton Trophy, taking place on its home waters next November.

Saeed Hareb, Managing Director of the Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC), during the Valencia RC44 Cup 2010

Valencia Sailing: In the early 1990's you were a football player and then manager of the UAE national team and you were the key person in the biggest achievement ever in the history of UAE football, the first, and only so far, participation in a World Cup. Fifteen years later you are the driving force behind Dubai's push into the global sailing scene. What made you take this radical change in direction?
Saeed Hareb: The roots of family are from the sea. My father, my grandfather and their ancestors were all seafarers and sailed in the traditional dhow yachts that were used for shipping cargo or diving for pearls. I have a strong link to the sea.

In the 1980's I was a football player, then captain of the UAE national team and in 1985 I was appointed as its manager. I brought the Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who by coincidence later went to Valencia, and we qualified for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. We were absolute beginners and as first timers we had some very tough matches against Colombia, Germany and Yugoslavia. We lost all three games but we, obviously, were aware of our possibilities and just being there was a great achievement.

After that success, I thought I had to go back to my family roots, back to the sea and I joined the DIMC. My involvement in sailing started with the dhows and this came quite naturally as it was part of my culture, my roots as well as our local tradition. I then moved to an international level with the powerboat racing organization and now we are actively involved with the RC44's, the Louis Vuitton Trophy next November and we are thinking of the America's Cup in the future.

Valencia Sailing: You took over the DIMC management in 1995. Are you satisfied with your achievements in the 15 years?
Saeed Hareb: Of course I'm satisfied. I'm very happy with what we have achieved so far. Our powerboat team, Team Victory, has won most of the titles in the world cup. We are also one of the top organizers of powerboat races in the world and I am the chairman of the World Professional Powerboating Association (WPPA). In sailing, I have been the representative of the Group I (Africa and Middle East) in the ISAF Council and as you see we are also here actively participating with our team, Sea Dubai.

My goals have always been to do the best for Dubai, the best for my country and in terms of sailing I think we have made enormous progress. Dubai is now well known all over the sailing world.

The Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC), host of the upcoming Louis Vuitton Trophy, Nov 13-28.

Valencia Sailing: Is there a sailing culture in Dubai? How difficult is it to "sell" sailing to the Dubai people.
Saeed Hareb: As I told you, sailing is in their blood. Their fathers, their grandfathers were all sailors because they lived by the sea and it was the only means of transportation and trading. In addition a lot of them were fishermen so they have known the dhows all their life.

Yet, life and society are evolving and as a result we don't want them to turn their back to the sea. For that reason we created various classes of the traditional dhow, 22 feet, 43 feet and 60 feet, to take people back to the sea and sailing. Don't forget that the dhows constitute the biggest fleet of traditional boats in the world. There are more than 100 boats and each one has a crew of around 25, so we have close to 3,000 people involved in sailing dhows.

During the next Louis Vuitton Trohpy, taking place in Dubai from November 13 to 28, we will also have races in traditional dhows but with the professional crews from the Louis Vuitton teams. It's a unique opportunity for them to get to know our culture and traditions.

Valencia Sailing: What about the opposite though, Dubai or Emirati sailors taking part in high-level international professional teams? How far are we from that becoming a reality?
Saeed Hareb: It's coming but it will take some time because as they say, in order to run you first have to learn to walk. First of all, locals have to see from close and appreciate these competitions. We started with bringing the RC44's, now the Louis Vuitton regattas and I think that some locals will try to make the leap into professional sailing.

Valencia Sailing: What about you? Do you prefer sailing or football?
Saeed Hareb: I have to admit that football is in my blood. I played it, I organized it, I like it. Football is my sport, my enjoyment while sailing is my task, my responsibility. There is a great difference though in my view. In football you are always confined in a stadium, always surrounded by thousands of spectators and the pressure is enormous. If you win you are a hero, if you lose you become a zero and that pressure is there during the entire season, 30-40 matches. One week the country loves you, the next week they see you as their enemy. That thing doesn't exist in sailing, even in the highest professional levels. Yet, I enjoy watching football and especially the Spanish league.

The Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC) with the Logo Island right off the harbor mouth and the Palm Island at the background

Valencia Sailing: Football is the world's most popular sport while sailing is still considered a niche sport, in particular in the Middle East and Asia. Given the expertise you have in those sports both as a participant but also as an organizer do you think there are ways to make sailing more popular?
Saeed Hareb: When I saw what took place here in Valencia in 2007 and how the general public was involved I think the America's Cup will not have problems reaching a wide audience. What we need to do though is to push the other classes. As I mentioned football games take place in a stadium and that is great for spectators. On the other hand sailing races take place far from the beach and I think we have to bring them much closer to the cities. I'm sure sailors will like that. The media also will be able to follow much better. We must also have commentators explaining the races to the general public.

We have to think about all those issues. The people in charge of organizing sailing events must consider them. Take for example today, we are sitting in these great facilities in Port America's Cup in Valencia but we can't see the races taking place right now because they are far from here. Spectators might be able to see the sails of the yachts but they have no idea what is going on. The racing itself might be very interesting and exciting but they will only know about it later tonight when they read about it. In my view, the mentality and philosophy of the sailing community has to change and I believe that BMW Oracle are focused on achieving this with the format of the 34th Americas Cup.

Valencia Sailing: Can you have America's Cup racing close to the beach in Dubai? Will people be able to watch it from the shore?
Saeed Hareb: Absolutely. We have a marina very similar to this one in Valencia but in addition just off the harbor mouth you have the race area. A few hundred meters from the harbor mouth there is the Logo Island and a couple hundred meters further back you have the Palm Island. So you have a natural lagoon there and the race course should take advantage of that.

Instead of simply going upwind-downwind they should have a loop, starting at a point and then coming back. That way it's always visible and spectators on the beach are always less than 200 meters from the boats. The mentality has to change and if something has been done for a long time it doesn't mean we shouldn't make it better.

If we want sailing to become more popular we must bring it closer to the public.

Valencia Sailing: The Louis Vuitton races will take place in the second half of November. Is that a good time of the year in Dubai? Is there enough wind?
Saeed Hareb: Yes, it's like in Valencia in July. The period from November to March is quite similar to the European summer and wind and sea conditions are perfect. After all, don't forget that Alinghi spent 3 months here in the winter of 2006, preparing for the 32nd America's Cup match, exactly because conditions were very similar to Valencia. Not only that, they used our facilities at the DIMC and as a result, I'm convinced the Louis Vuitton Trophy in Dubai will be a success.

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