Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is it Safe to Hold the America’s Cup in RAK, UAE?

Ellison Questions Safety
Larry Ellison, the Oracle Corp. founder and CEO who owns BMW Oracle Racing, said he's never been to Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, which was named last week by Alinghi as the venue for the best-of-3 America’s Cup starting on 8 February 2010.

On Tuesday he questioned the safety of a Persian Gulf port picked as the site for the America's Cup.

“I don't exactly know what to say,” Ellison said during the official presentation of his crew and the giant trimaran it will sail. “I'm a little bit concerned because it's less than 100 miles from Iran, so we're all concerned about the safety of our crew and our shore crew and everyone setting set up there.”

Russell Coutts of Ellison’s team had earlier expressed comments about his lack of knowledge of RAK even though he and his crew have spent time sailing out of Dubai and visiting Abu Dhabi.

While recognizing the international sport that is played in the Emirates, Ellison’s comments seemed pointed towards Ras al-Khaimah’s location near Iran:

“People say, ‘Oh my God, the Emirates, that's where Roger Federer trains for tennis and that's where Formula One races,’” said Ellison, who will sail aboard the 90-foot trimaran. “Not this part of the Emirates. There's an oil depot, we're concerned about electricity, we're concerned about a lot of things. We're concerned about the proximity to Iran.”

“I know a lot of people in the UAE. We like them a lot. Oracle does do a lot of business with the UAE. Nothing bad to say about the UAE at all, but we are concerned about the suitability of this particular venue for a race like this.”

Alinghi Team Concerned about Safety
In the initial announcement by the Cup holders, Brad Butterworth said the selection of the UAE had taken into consideration the important matters of the overall safety of all involved in the competition:

“Our absolute priorities in making this decision are the prevailing weather conditions and the resulting safety that they bring to both teams.”

Iran/UAE Tension
There is a running conflict between Iran and the UAE over the ownership of islands in the stretch of water between the two countries and Emiratis always make Iranian blood boil when they call the Gulf the ‘Arabian’ Gulf rather than the ‘Persian Gulf’.

On a day to day basis in the UAE there is no great tension between the Emirates and Iran. The US administration wishes there was more and has been critical of the brisk trade between the two countries, hoping instead that the UAE will join the trade boycott.

On the almost universal questioning of the recent election results in Iran, the UAE has been noticeably silent, calling it an ‘internal matter’. Regardless of the rightness and wrongness of being silent in the face of injustice, this approach underscores the ‘brotherly’ relationship between the two countries and emphasizes further the safety aspects of holding the America’s Cup near Iran.

International security analyst Dr Paul Buchanan said recently of the proposed America’s Cup in the UAE: “The Iranians would have no real interest in disrupting the event. Not only are their relations with the UAE cordial, but it would invite further international sanctions and a possible military response.”

General Safety in the UAE?
Questions of safety in the UAE abound on travel advisory sites, on forums and on business and employment sites. In different ways people are asking, “Will I be safe if I travel to the UAE and the Middle East?”

Overwhelmingly the answer is ‘Yes’ and the response is amplified by this statement on an employment site:

“There is relatively little crime in UAE. The level of violence is far less than one would find in a city of comparable size in the United States or Canada. Generally, Western people say they feel safe.”

Personal Response
As one who has lived in New Zealand, Australia and the USA, and as a frequent traveller to many different countries of the world, my wife and I feel very safe living in the UAE. It feels safer to live in the UAE than in New Zealand, Australia and the USA.

Most times when Americans hear that I live in the UAE the response is usually the same: “Do you feel safe living in the Emirates?” The US media service has conditioned Americans into thinking that every part of the Middle East is unsafe and therefore to be avoided. Furthermore, the incessant coupling of the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ have falsely portrayed Islamic countries as places of violence and depicted Muslims as people who are committed to conflict and attack.

Americans Should Come to the UAE and the Gulf
A Yacht Sponsorship report (11 August 2009) that waxes eloquently on the American skill in pomp and ceremony decries the UAE site selection, calling the choice of Ras al-Khaimah “one of the least ‘fan-friendly’ things that the Swiss team have done.”

The article adds: “The choice of the UAE venue makes it incredibly difficult for spectators to get involved in the next edition of the Cup…[and] by choosing the little known UAE destination, the event effectively becomes a television only event.”

Whether the safety factor of venturing to the Middle East is paramount or the fear of the unknown, American spectators should grasp the opportunity of using this competition to visit the UAE and make up their own minds rather than accepting blindly the false stereotypes portrayed by their media.

On Related Sites
Global Oil Supplies Diminishing Fast—Implications for the UAE? Experiencing the Emirates, 12 August 2009.

Powerful News for Fujairah, Fujairah in Focus, 12 August 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

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Image: “Comments seemed pointed towards Ras al-Khaimah’s location near Iran.”