x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

George O'Grady says golf could be 'force for good' in Bahrain

Bahrain's hopes of returning to golf's European Tour calendar next season will depend to a large extent on the success of the country's Formula One grand prix, scheduled for April 22.

ABU DHABI // Bahrain's hopes of returning to golf's European Tour calendar next season will depend to a large extent on the success of the country's Formula One grand prix, said George O'Grady, the chief executive of the Tour, but the ultimate decision whether the Volvo Golf Champions goes ahead in 2013 will be made by the event's title sponsors.

The Tour's inaugural tournament in the Kingdom was held in January 2011 at Bahrain's Royal Golf Club, one month before unrest broke out in the country.

By March, the protests had forced the season-opening grand prix race in Sakhir to be postponed - it was later cancelled - and when the European Tour demanded a decision to be made in late July regarding this year's competition venue, Volvo opted to take the €2 million (Dh9.7m) tournament to South Africa.

A decision regarding the 2013 event is not due until the summer, but much will depend on whether the country is capable of hosting its 2012 F1 race, which is scheduled for April 22. There are already doubts about whether Formula One will return to Bahrain.

When asked how closely he is keeping an eye on the progress of Bahrain's F1 race, O'Grady said: "A lot. Both ourselves, Volvo and their advisers are watching it all the time to see what goes; the dangers."

Speaking on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, O'Grady added that while his office is in constant dialogue with officials in Bahrain, the decision whether or not the event returns to the Riffa-based club lies firmly with Volvo.

"The decision will be made when everybody is comfortable. We know the Volvo Champions is going to take place, but Volvo have the money, so it will be their decision on where it is played. They will consult with us and consult with political advisers, but the final decision will ultimately be theirs."

Giles Morgan, the group head of sponsorships at HSBC, said he would expect Volvo and the European Tour to work together to make a quick decision.

"The sponsor will do anything based on their business and clearly the geography would be important to them and the geopolitical decision as well," he said. "The Tour would be thinking about safety of players and the appropriateness, while the sponsor would be thinking 'is this the right business decision' and a decision would be made quite quickly."

An independent report commissioned by the Bahraini government and published in November said a number of detained protesters had been tortured. Bahrain's King Hamad responded by saying everything possible would be done to ensure "those painful events won't be repeated".

O'Grady said the report would influence any decision, but added golf can be "a force for good in the country".

"We prefer to look at what we can bring to Bahrain as a solidifying force."

The chief executive said the tournament could help Bahrain in that it would create employment opportunities for "a number of people" as well as providing the world's media the chance to visit.


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