x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bahrain Grand Prix a fuel for the economy of the kingdom

Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, chief executive of Bahrain International Circuit, stressed significance of event returning to island from April 20-22.

Officials at Bahrain International Circuit launched the ticket sales and events leading up to the grand prix, scheduled for April 22.
Officials at Bahrain International Circuit launched the ticket sales and events leading up to the grand prix, scheduled for April 22.

MANAMA // It is impossible to overstate the importance of Formula One in Bahrain's quest to revive the national economy and unite a fragmented society, organisers of the kingdom's annual grand prix said on Sunday.

A wave of unrest in the country last year led to the cancellation of the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix. This year's race, scheduled to run from April 20 to 22 in Sakhir, is being marketed with the slogan "Unified: One nation in celebration".

Speaking at the official ticket launch, Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, the chief executive of the Bahrain International Circuit, stressed the significance of the event returning to the island.

"This race is such an important race for Bahrainis," Al Khalifa said. "The economic impact of the grand prix runs into the millions of dollars and it ties us to the world in that we – this small island of Bahrain – are part of a very unique group and really become a world player with this race.

"So, as well as the benefits it brings to the country, we hope it can unify for the well-being of the kingdom."

Since the political unrest started 12 months ago, the country's hotel and tourism industry has lost more than 40 per cent of its revenues, while the cancellation of last year's race is estimated to have cost the national economy nearly US$500 million (Dh1.836 billion).

With fresh outbreaks of violence in the capital last week, which included police firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters as recently as Friday, the question of whether the country is ready to return to F1's world championship calendar in 60 days remains on the lips of many in the Formula One fraternity.

Downtown Manama, where the majority of the sport's travelling fraternity stay while visiting, has appeared at peace the past two days and, other than an increased police presence, the capital appears to be as calm and controlled as any major Gulf city.

"Life has come back to normal, people are moving around without problem now," Al Khalifa said. "I don't see an issue. Obviously, there are always concerns and the authorities are aware of that, but my main concern is that everybody is secure in and around the circuit and I am confident we can provide that."

Concerns exist that protesters may target the three-day event.

Al Khalifa said he is "very confident" the race will go ahead and added everything will be done to ensure a safe and successful race.

"The grand prix for us is a world class-event and all world-class events will always have a small group of people looking to take advantage," he said.

"We take that very serious and have a strong team ensuring the safety; and I am sure the administrations are doing the same to ensure visitors are secure from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave."

Samer Majali, the chief executive officer of the race's title sponsor, Gulf Air, said his company is committed to helping Bahrain recover. "We have been associated with [the grand prix] since 2004 and it is our pleasure to continue our support," he said. "This is the biggest event in Bahrain in terms of the annual calendar and we look forward to re-establishing Bahrain as the home of motorsports in the region."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae