MAY 30, 2001
Bahrain comes to the Monaco party
REPRESENTATIVES of the government of Bahrain were amongst the visitors to the bustling Formula 1 paddock in Monaco. The Gulf state has had ambitions of hosting a Grand Prix for a couple of years as part of the new Emir's program of liberalization and improving the international image of the city and boosting its tourist industry. Bahrain is heavily dependent on oil but like nearby Dubai and Abu Dhabi has concluded that the future probably lies in tourism. Dubai has been building up its image with a series of major international sporting events such as the Dubai World Cup, the richest horse race in the world, an offshore powerboat Grand Prix, the Dubai Open tennis and Desert Classic golf competitions. Bahrain appears to be following suit.
Formerly a totalitarian dictatorship, Bahrain has been liberalizing rapidly since the death in 1999 of the Emir Sheik Isa bin Sulman Al-Khalifa. His successor Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa visited the Italian GP in the autumn of 1999 and had talks with Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone about the possibility of a race in Bahrain. Since then the Emir has re-established a parliamentary system, released political prisoners and made Bahrain more attractive to investors. His aim is to become the banking center of the Middle East and to be a playground between Europe and Asia.
There is no doubt that Formula 1 would like to host a race in the Middle East and in recent years Ecclestone has had talks with a number of governments including Egypt, the Lebanon and Dubai. A middle eastern venue would help to attract fans in the region and would stimulate growth in the Far East as it would be broadcast at better hour than most of the European races.
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