Despite the conflicts that plague the Middle East, Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries such as Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates still manage to stage high-profile sporting events, notably tennis, golf and Formula 1 motor racing. 

Such events help show the rest of the world that it is ‘business as usual’, despite ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and the spillover effects to other parts of the region. Even Bahrain, which has seen more sectarian strife than the rest of the GCC in recent years, still managed to hold the Formula 1 grand prix in April.

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This event is not only an important marketing tool for the Sunni-led country and, arguably, a symbol of unity between Sunni and Shiite religions, but it also brings millions of much-needed dollars into the country. (Unlike most Middle East countries, Bahrain is not naturally blessed with hefty oil and gas reserves.) As a result of the Grand Prix’s cancellation in 2011, Bahrain reportedly lost about $500m in income.

It is probably too early for Bahrain to determine the extent to which the hosting of such an event attracts FDI beyond the income generated from the event itself. It cannot be denied, however, that for an emirate such as Dubai, the hosting of prestigious sporting events continues to bolster its image as a ‘safe haven’, with a vibrant and dynamic business environment and the revival of a buoyant real-estate market.

Then there is, of course, the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race, and the Rugby Sevens, all of which help to solidify the emirate’s advantage as a host of iconic events and strengthen the widely held view that Dubai is a safe and secure environment in which to live, work and play. Whether true or not, it is perception that matters. And the holding of high-profile sporting events has been an extremely effective and lucrative marketing tool for Dubai. n