Bahrain uses darts hype for sports washing

Nine days after the World Cup of Darts final, the darts professionals are already on their way. Today and tomorrow, the Profidart association will stop in the desert. The PDC organizes for the first time the Bahrain Darts Masters. Middle East expert Sebastian Sons sees it as a “smart decision” on the part of the small kingdom.

The professional darts organization PDC sent five world champions on their trip to Bahrain. New champion Michael Smith, along with Peter Wright, Rob Cross, Gerwyn Price and Dutch darts legend Raymond van Barneveld. Only Michael van Gerwen is on vacation and cannot or does not want to take part in the big class trip of the darts elite. Nonetheless, the prominent roster shows how important the Bahrain Darts Masters is to the PDC.

In the smallest of all desert states, a so-called World Series tournament will take place from today until tomorrow night. The PDC tries to make darts better known outside of Europe. Every year, the best players travel to Australia and New Zealand in the summer, and for some years also to the venerable Madison Square Garden in New York. Tokyo, Singapore and Dubai have also featured on the tournament schedule in the past. Now Bahrain is following.

Moments steeped in history, like the World Cup at London’s legendary Alexandra Palace, are next to impossible in Bahrain. The tournament is too unimportant for that and will know too few answers. From a sporting point of view, it is understandable. It’s just next to nothing, except more or less prize money for the top eight players the PDC sends to the wasteland.

“Appendages of Saudi Arabia”

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 happy to finally be here. We look forward to entertaining Bahrainis,” PDC CEO Matt Porter said ahead of the tournament. We have been working on this event for almost ten years. Contact with the small kingdom was established in 2013, when the Dubai Darts Masters took place for the first time.

“The tournament is an opportunity for Bahrain to position itself a bit stronger on the international map of the world,” Islamic scholar and Middle East expert Sebastian Sons said in an interview with The importance of the darts tournament is of course “not as high” as the World Cup in Qatar or Saudi Arabia’s application to major sporting events. “But I can imagine it could become a long-term model for Bahrain to focus on niche sports,” adds Sons.

Eight top players received an invitation to the Bahrain Darts Masters.

(Photo: PDC)

Until now, Bahrain was little known outside the Islamic world. Different from ultra-conservative regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, different from controversial FIFA World Cup host Qatar and Germany’s new gas partner, different from the United Arab Emirates with its throbbing melting pots Abu Dhabi and Dubai. “Bahrain hasn’t excelled geostrategically so far. In the past, the kingdom was described as an appendage of Saudi Arabia,” says expert Sons, who works for Middle East think tank Carpo in Bonn. “The main reason is that as a small island state you are just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. But it’s also because the ruling family of Bahrain has strong ties to the ruling family of Saudi Arabia.”

The two kingdoms are close allies, but Bahrain is simply too small “to be able to pursue an independent foreign policy”, Sons said. This is why the country is evolving “in the wake of Saudi Arabia, but also of the United Arab Emirates”.

“Enjoy before returning to the conservative life”

Politically, Bahrain is more liberal than its Saudi big brother, but the country remains very repressive towards those who think differently. This was particularly evident in 2011 during the Arab Spring. “At the time, the threat to the ruling family was so great that they used violence against the Protestants and tightened the reins,” Sons recalls.

Homosexuality is frowned upon 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 weekends to blow off steam in the more liberal Bahrain. There they also have the opportunity, I would say, to have fun in other ways before returning to conservative life.” Bahrain now has the reputation of being a kind of “Saudi Las Vegas”, reports the Middle East expert.

The precision and entertainment sport of darts fits perfectly. At least in theory. In any case, ticket sales figures can’t quite keep up with tournaments in England, Germany or the Netherlands – there are still tickets available in all categories just before the start of the tournament. “Just buy a ticket and watch the games. I promise you’ll see what makes darts so special and why I fell in love with the sport as a little boy,” world champion Michael Smith announces on the one of several the day before the tournament. Promotional events in favor of Bahrainis.

The tournament takes place on the Formula 1 circuit

It’s definitely not the first international sporting event in this state of 1.5 million people. Bahrain is perhaps best known to most people in Europe for its annual Formula 1 race. The Bahrain International Circuit, 27 kilometers southwest of the capital Manama, has been in use for almost 20 years.

This is exactly where the darts tournament takes place. The PDC set up its stage directly on the racecourse. Benches of beer, booze, loud music. A little “Ally Pally” feeling should arise when the elite of arrow sports get on the board.

Even if the event isn’t completely sold out at the end, the professional darts organization stands to make a lot of money from the tournament. Bahrain will pay dearly for the appointment of the best darts players in the world. In return, the small kingdom attracts attention and beautiful images. The actors can’t stop raving. First class flights, delicious food, fantastically beautiful hotel pool. All of this can be found on the top players’ social media accounts.

Is Bahrain aiming to improve its image in the world with this tournament, as for example Qatar is doing with its investments in football? This is true to a much lesser extent, Bahrain also practices sports washing, explains the Sons expert. The small country, barely larger than Hamburg, is finding a niche. “It is a smart move by the Bahraini government to position itself in the sports sector alongside Formula 1. Darts should also be attractive as the other Gulf States have so far not invested at all or at all. trouble in these niche sports.”

Sons advises fans to look critically at the host country, but don’t point fingers. “It goes without saying that this tournament is not as controversial as the World Cup. But I think every critical fan who has some critical distance from their favorite sport should at least keep in mind what autocratic systems are such driving tournaments. It’s useful to solve the problem without wanting to spoil the fun for the fans.”

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