Bahrain is positioning itself as a top destination for sports tourism by investing in several key infrastructure projects and hosting international sporting events as part of its game-changing strategy to boost the local economy.
The global focus on the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup and its success has generated interest in the Middle East sports market with several Gulf countries hosting international golf, cricket, horse racing and Formula One race events.
Bahrain was the first country in the Middle East to host the F1 race in 2004 and later neighboring Gulf countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia entered the track by hosting similar events over the years.
The tiny Gulf Island has now embarked on a mega International Sports City located in Sakhir, southern part of the country which is expected to be completed in 2025.
Bahrain's main investment promotion agency, the Economic Development Board has stated the project includes international standard football fields and athletics tracks. The EDB first announced the project in 2021 and since then there have been developments related to budget allocation and design, including road work to the city.
The government has reportedly allocated BD48.7 million ($130m ) for the project this year and BD52.1m ($138m) for 2024.
The project is designed to include a state-of-the-art sports stadium capable of accommodating up to 50,000 spectators and a multi-use hall capable of seating up to 10,000 spectators.
Additionally, the Sports City will feature a commercial complex and hotels, making it a destination for sports enthusiasts and visitors alike.
The city is located near the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), the Formula 1 Grand Prix racetrack and Exhibition World Bahrain- the largest exhibition venue of its kind in the Middle East.
REGIONAL HUB FOR SPORTS TOURISM
"The importance of sports infrastructure projects in the development of Bahrain's youth cannot be overstated," said a spokeswoman from the Bahrain Olympic Committee.
"These projects provide a multitude of benefits for young people, including the opportunity to participate in sports activities that promote physical fitness, teamwork, and leadership skills.
"Moreover, these infrastructure projects serve as a catalyst for positioning Bahrain as a hub for regional and international sports events and tournaments."
The Bahrain International Sports City is among more than 50 mega projects worth millions of dinars to be rolled out in the next two years to boost the economy.
The projects include education, housing, health, youth, culture and other sectors that were drafted in the 2023-2024 national budget presented to the 40-member Bahrain parliament this year, which would cost over BD1 billion.
CENTRE OF SPORTS EXCELLENCE
The spokeswoman further revealed another key sports project that is underway including a state-of-the-art aquatics sports center in partnership with GFH Financial Group and the Bahrain Swimming Federation.
An agreement was signed in January this year to set up the Aquatic Sports Centre at The University of Technology Bahrain (UTB) campus.
The project cost is not revealed by the developers and construction work is still in the planning phase.
"The Bahrain Technology University will host an international aquatics center equipped with two Olympic-sized swimming pools and 150 rooms for players that have all necessary facilities," added the spokeswoman.
"The agreement also includes the construction of new swimming pools capable of hosting events in five of the six world-class water sports: swimming, water polo, artistic swimming, diving, and high diving.
SPORTS PROJECT TO BOOST GROWTH
The spokeswoman added that by providing state-of-the-art sports facilities, Bahrain is creating a conducive environment that fosters the development of sports talent and the flourishing of the sports industry.
"The ripple effects of this investment will be felt in the years to come, as Bahrain continues to establish itself as a leader in sports development and innovation.
"It is important for policymakers and stakeholders to recognize the value of sports projects and work to promote their development and implementation in the country."
EVOLVING GLOBAL SPORTS MARKET
Ali Faqeeh, an analyst at the Bahrain Centre for Strategic, International and Energy Studies said the ambitious Sports City project will generate jobs, boost the economy through increased tourism and spending, and even push other projects.
"Megaprojects, such as large-scale infrastructure developments and commercial real estate projects, can have a significant impact on the real estate industry in a country," said Mr. Faqeeh.
"These projects often attract investment, create jobs, and drive demand for housing and commercial space in the surrounding areas."
Bahrain like its Gulf neighbors over the years has undertaken a series of measures to diversify its economy and push growth in non-oil sectors, with tourism playing a key role.
The latest government statistics for Q1 2023 show that real estate and business activities contributed 5.3 per cent growth Year-on-Year.
The occupancy rate in 4-star and 5-star properties increased by 8.4pc and the total number of arrivals increased by 71.9pc YoY.
Also, BIC announced earlier this year that a record-breaking race attendance of 99,500 visitors were at the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Due to the significance of the sector in driving economic growth and diversification, the government launched the Tourism Sector Strategy 2022-2026 as part of the Economic Recovery Plan.
Photo credit: Economic Development Board