The cyclist Sonny Colbrelli secured prominent exposure for the name of his Bahrain Merida team early in the Tour de France, heading the group sprint at the end of the second stage in Liège before finishing a creditable sixth. The team’s leader, Ion Izagirre, crashed out on the first day, but Bahrain Merida has already established itself on the world tour, after the star signing Vincenzo Nibali competed through three spectacular weeks in May to claim a third-place finish in the Giro d’Italia.
The cycling team, launched in January with an estimated £13.7m budget by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, a son of the ruling King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, is the latest venture which will help to promote the autocratically ruled, troubled country through an association with globally televised sporting events.
The Formula One grand prix is still a fixture in Bahrain, lending the island its super-fuelled glitz every year. Sheikh Nasser launched the Bahrain Endurance 13 triathlon team in 2015, with a stated aim of promoting sport’s values, and his belief that “through triathlon, people can enjoy a better life”. The Bahrain shirt is now worn by the English Olympic gold medallist Alistair Brownlee, among other international triathletes.
Sheikh Nasser is a brigadier-general in the Bahrain army and commander of the royal guard, although not a member of the government or council of ministers, to which King Hamad has appointed 12 members of his Khalifa family. A sports enthusiast, Sheikh Nasser occupies the most senior positions in several of the country’s sports bodies, including as president of the Olympic committee. On 11 May Fifa welcomed him on to the stage at its congress held in the Bahrain capital Manama, where Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, thanked him for hosting the congress in “your beautiful country”.
In his speech, Sheikh Nasser said of hosting the congress: “This adds another dimension to our national vision to be an island that…