Nine days after the World Cup Final, the darts pros are already on their way. Today and tomorrow, Profidart will be stopping in the desert. The Bahrain Darts Development Center organizes the Bahrain Darts Championship for the first time. Middle East expert Sebastian Sones sees this as a “clever move” by the tiny kingdom.
The Professional Darts Organization PDC has sent five world champions on their trip to Bahrain. Newly crowned champions are Michael Smith, as well as Peter Wright, Rob Cross, Jeroen Price and Dutch darts legend Raymond van Barneveld. Only Michael van Gerwen is on vacation and can’t or won’t take part in the elite darts’ big class flight. However, the notable lineup shows just how important the Bahrain Darts Masters program is to the PDC.
In the smallest of the desert states, a tournament called the World Championship will be held from today until tomorrow evening. PDC is trying to make darts better known outside of Europe. Every year the best players go to Australia and New Zealand in the summer, and for several years now also to the venerable Madison Square Garden in New York. Tokyo, Singapore and Dubai have also been on the tournament schedule in the past. Now tracking Bahrain.
Moments steeped in history, such as the World Cup at London’s legendary Alexandra Palace, are almost impossible to miss in Bahrain. Heroism is not very important for this and you will experience little response. From a mathematical perspective, this is understandable. It’s simply not about anything, other than more or less prize money for the top eight players that the PDC sends into the desert.
“Saudi Arabia Appendices”
In terms of sports politics, darts fans can expect the most exciting event on the tournament calendar at the start of the year. “We are delighted to finally be here. We look forward to entertaining the people of Bahrain,” said Matt Porter, CEO of PDC, ahead of the tournament. We have been working towards this event for almost ten years. The connection to the small kingdom was established in 2013, when the Dubai Darts Masters was held for the first time.
“The tournament is an opportunity for Bahrain to place itself more firmly on the international map of the world,” Islamic scholar and Middle East expert Sebastian Sons says in an interview with ntv.de. The significance of the archery tournament is of course “not as high” as the World Cup in Qatar or Saudi Arabia’s implementation of major sporting events. “But I can imagine this could become a long-term model for Bahrain to focus on specialized sports,” the sons add.
Until now, Bahrain was little known outside the Islamic world. Different from Saudi Arabia, the conservative regional power, different from controversial FIFA World Cup host and new German gas partner Qatar, and different from the United Arab Emirates with its pulsating melting pot Abu Dhabi and Dubai. “Bahrain has not excelled geostrategically yet. In the past, the kingdom was described as a vassal of Saudi Arabia,” explains expert Sones, who works at the Middle East think tank Carpo in Bonn. “The main reason is that as a small island country, you are close to the Saudi coast. But that is also because the ruling family in Bahrain has close ties to the ruling family in Saudi Arabia.”
The two kingdoms are close allies, but Bahrain is simply too small to “be able to conduct an independent foreign policy,” says Sones. That is why the country is moving “in the mouth of Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates.”
“Enjoy before returning to the conservative life”
Politically, Bahrain is more liberal than its big Saudi brother, but the country is still very repressive against those who think differently. This was particularly evident in 2011 during the Arab Spring. The sons recalled: “At that time the threat to the ruling family was so great that they used violence against the Protestants and tightened the reins.”
Homosexuality is unacceptable in Bahrain, and freedom of expression is severely restricted. Unlike Saudi Arabia, for example, alcohol is allowed. “Some Saudi men come to the island on the weekends to let everything out in the more liberal Bahrain. There, too, they have the opportunity, I say, to enjoy themselves in other ways before returning to a conservative life.” Bahrain is now famous as a kind of “Saudi Las Vegas”, reports the Middle East expert.
The accuracy and recreational sportiness of the darts fit in perfectly. At least in theory. In any case, ticket sales numbers can’t keep up with tournaments in England, Germany or the Netherlands – there are still tickets available in all categories just before the tournament starts. “Just buy a ticket and watch the matches. I promise you’ll see what makes darts so special and why I fell in love with the sport when I was a little kid,” world champion Michael Smith announced at one of several evenings before the tournament promotional events for Bahrainis.
The tournament takes place on the Formula 1 track
It is not the first international sporting event in the country of 1.5 million people. Most people in Europe may know Bahrain for its annual Formula 1 race. The Bahrain International Circuit, located 27 kilometers southwest of the capital, Manama, has been in use for nearly 20 years.
This is exactly where the darts tournament takes place. The PDC has set up its stage right on the racetrack. Seats, beer, alcohol and loud music. That little “Ally Pally” feeling should come out when the stock sports elite step onto the board.
Even if the event doesn’t sell out completely in the end, the professional darts organization should earn a lot of money from the tournament. Bahrain will pay dearly for meeting the best archers in the world. In contrast, the Little Kingdom gets attention and beautiful pictures. The actors can’t stop raving. First class flights, delicious food, a fantastically beautiful hotel pool. All of this can be found on the social media accounts of the top players.
Does Bahrain aim to improve its image in the world with this tournament, as Qatar does, for example, with its investments in football? This is true to a much lesser extent. Bahrain also practices sports washing, expert sons say. The tiny country, barely larger than Hamburg, is in the process of finding a suitable niche. “It is a smart move by the Bahraini government to position itself in the sport alongside Formula 1. Darts should also be attractive as other Gulf countries have yet to invest at all or hardly at all in such niche sports.”
Sons advises fans to take a critical look at the host country, but without pointing fingers. “It goes without saying that this tournament is not nearly as controversial as the World Cup. But I think every critical fan with a certain critical distance from their favorite sport should at least be mindful of authoritarian regimes such as conduct leagues. It helps address the problem without wanting to spoil the fun fans.”