Al Shindagah Magazine

to the edge and back

The World Peace Games comes to Dubai this month. The opening event, the Desert Endurance Marathon, is a gruelling run, swim, hike, climb and ride across 250 kilometres of the most beautiful yet arduous landscape the Gulf has to offer.

The World Peace GamesIn the past few years Dubai has established a growing reputation as a major sports venue by hosting events such as the Dubai Open Tennis Championships and the Dubai World Cup and it now looks set to build on this reputation by adding the prestigious 5th World Peace Games to the list of events held in the Emirates.

The international sporting event, held under the patronage of the United Nations, will take place in Dubai for the first time from 19 March to 18 April, which incidentally coincides with another major Dubai 'event', the Shopping Festival.

"Dubai has two noble aims for holding the tournament for the first time this year - the first being to ensure the Emirates is regarded as a 'Capital of Peace' - after all over 130 nationalities live in peace in Dubai in one large community.

"We also want countries who take part from all over the world to meet with Arabic participants here and witness first hand what a good, developed society we live in," said President of the 5th World Peace Games Dubai 98 Organising Committee, Thani Juma Belregad. Previously held in France, Switzerland and Morocco the games include a range of sporting, cultural, humanitarian and economic challenges which are open to every nation's citizens regardless of religion, race, politics or age.

Over 40,000 participants took part in the last Games in Morocco and organisers hope that the World Peace Games Dubai 98 will prove to be even more popular drawing the focus of the world media to the Emirates yet again.

A large number of sporting events lined up for the Games include athletics, triathlon, golf and tennis, but the event sure to attract most of the world media's attention is without doubt the opening race, the Desert Endurance Marathon (BBC World are purportedly recording the event to be shown live in 80 million homes worldwide).

The four-person team event involves teams in three categories (international, regional and women's) crossing the Emirates from the east to west coast in five gruelling stages over five exhausting days.

The starting point for the race, which kicks off the games on 20 March, is the Dubai International Marine Club on the coast and the event will end on 24 March at Dubai Police Stadium.

The Desert Endurance Marathon is the first event of its kind to be held under the banner of the World Peace Games and is the brainchild of ex-military man Paul Flaherty of Dubai based adventure tour group, North Star Expeditions.

The route devised by Paul will take competitors through a mix of rugged terrain starting on day one with the beach, then moving over the ensuing three days to hinterland, sand dunes, gravel plains and into the mountains of Hatta on foot and via mountain bike. In the course of the five days competitors will also face a number of challenges including water sports, abseiling and they will also tackle intellectual challenges at the end of each day's racing.

"The unique terrain of the Emirates makes it an ideal and very attractive location for a race of this kind. The landscape is visually very exciting and there is also some very rugged terrain within a relatively short distance of the city. Plus the harsh climatic conditions out here adds to the endurance factor of the race," explains Paul.

In fact he says the extreme heat of the Emirates is likely to cause most problems for competitors and is one of the major health and safety points the organisers have emphasised in a briefing pack given to all teams. However, the possibility of stormy or rainy weather could cause just as many problems for the teams, especially in the hazardous, slippery mountain routes of Hatta, as a precaution Paul has charted an alternative bad weather route which sticks mainly to the roads.

The Games in Dubai have been widely promoted around the world since December 1997, at two press conferences; one in Geneva and one in Paris and so far the response has been very strong, with a a total of 27 teams from as far afield as Germany, France, Bahrain, UK, the USA, Hong Kong and Australia registered to take part. However, not all teams are international and around 50 per cent of the participants are regional teams, such as the two Dubai Police teams, while a total of four all-female teams have also entered.

This is the first time an endurance contest of this kind has taken place under the banner of the World Peace Games but Paul hopes it will go on to become an annual event in Dubai. "The general aim is to develop the Marathon into an annual event and the eventual aim is to make this the toughest race in the world," he says, adding, "Day four is probably the most difficult day for contestants this year as it is mainly in the mountains."

In an event of this kind safety is of the utmost importance and there will be a number of checkpoints throughout the route to control the progress of competing teams, provide water and monitor the medical condition of competitors. There are also control points marked out to control bottle necks and act as safety monitors at natural obstacles.

"Safety is one of the biggest factors we have to consider, teams have all been given information packs with advice on simple preventative measures and medicines to avoid problems, such as heat exhaustion.

"We have also got checks every 10 km to ensure teams don't get lost and ground vehicles and helicopters will also be on hand in case of accidents or medical emergencies," he assures us.

Each team has been advised to have team members specialised in one of the four individual disciplines that will be put to the test on day one; paddle boarding, swimming, orienteering and cycling. But Paul says after these individual events on day one, all activity will be a team effort: "In this kind of event everything depends on good teamwork, the team has got to pull together."

The Dubai Shopping Festival have donated 1 kilogram of gold to be split amongst the winners but in keeping with the ethos of the World Peace Games, the prize money is not the main target for most teams: "The aim of the Games is to cut down on elitism in major sports events, the Games are open to anyone regardless of any barriers, such as age, religion or race. It is all about ordinary people coming together in an exciting, sporting environment."

A gruelling timetable

Day 1
Location: Coastal area of Dubai
Terrain: Hinterland
Challenges: A 10 km team race followed by individual disciplines in the sea, on the beach and in the hinterland. Followed by team intellectual challenge.

Day 2
Route: Coast to Bivouac 1
Terrain: Sand dunes
Challenges: Endurance walks of 50km, 40km and 30km for the International, Regional and Female teams respectively.

Route: Bivouac 1 to 2
Terrain: Gravel tracks and road.
Challenges: Mountain biking across roads and gravel plains. The International teams face a route of 90-100km, Regional 80km and Female teams 60kms. Following this teams face a written test on environmental issues compiled by the Emirates Environment Group.

Day 4
Route: Bivouac 2 to 3
Terrain: Gravel track, mountains, wadis.
Challenges: A mixture of mountain biking, walking and running for a distance of 35 to 45kms for all teams. The mountainous terrain means teams will be required to abseil and also carry out a water crossing. At the end of the day teams will face their final intellectual test.

Location: Outskirts of Dubai
Challenge: Teams are bussed back to Dubai where they complete a short race and an abseil wall. These final challenges will be followed by a closing ceremony.