By Matt Smith
DUBAI (Reuters) - A planned $1 billion Real Madrid-branded resort in the United Arab Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah (RAK) has been halted and the project may be switched to Abu Dhabi, a senior executive at the master developer and the club said on Thursday.
The 50-hectare (124 acre) attraction was to have been built on the man-made Marjan Island in RAK, 105 kilometres north of its more illustrious neighbour Dubai.
Real Madrid President Florentino Perez and former World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane, now an assistant to coach Carlo Ancelotti, attended the glitzy project launch in March 2012.
Drawings were displayed for a 450-room hotel, a marina and yacht club and a Real Madrid museum, plus an amusement park and a 10,000-capacity stadium.
At the time, Louis-Armand de Rouge, chief executive of Real Madrid Resort Island, a Luxembourg-based company, said the complex would open in January 2015.
But building work never started and Rouge's company did not buy the land upon which the resort was meant to be built, Michael Hernandez, project director of Marjan Island, told Reuters on Thursday.
He said the project had been "put on hold" and that Marjan Island had no commitments relating to the resort.
In the UAE, developers often prefer to describe mothballed projects as postponed or "on hold" rather than officially scrapping them, even if years pass without any work being conducted on them.
A Real spokeswoman said media reports in Spain that the project had been scrapped were untrue and there was a possibility the resort would now be built in Abu Dhabi.
At the 2012 launch, de Rouge said "there are already heaps of people that want to buy most of it", adding prospective investors included "individuals, private institutions and some financial institutions".
Should the resort not be built, it would add to a host of sports-themed projects in the UAE that failed in the wake of the financial crisis, including a Tiger Woods-branded golf and real estate development and a Bollywood project.
A property market recovery seen in Dubai has not helped other Emirates, where projects have been stalled for years
Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, meanwhile, has sought to establish itself as a tourist destination, hosting a Formula One Grand Prix from 2009.
It is also home to Ferrari World, which claims to be the world's largest indoor theme park, a 15-hectare water park and wildlife reserve containing about 15,000 animals.
De Rouge did not respond to emailed requests to comment and could not be contacted on the phone number listed on his business card.
(Additional reporting by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Alison Wildey)