The Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead this month without spectators due to the coronavirus crisis, a blow to the Gulf’s Arab states important tourism sector.
Bahrain, which is hosting the second round of the Formula One season on March 22, has reported 83 cases of the virus, mostly linked to people who had travelled to Iran.
“Convening a major sporting event, which is open to the public and allows thousands of international travellers and local fans to interact in close proximity would not be the right thing to do at the present time,” organisers the Bahrain International Circuit said.
“To ensure that neither the sport, nor its global supporter base, is unduly impacted, the race weekend itself will still go ahead as a televised event.”
Concerts featuring DJ’s Afrojack and Don Diablo over the race weekend have been cancelled. Bahrain has suspended flights to some destinations over concerns of the rapidly spreading virus.
It has also asked people entering the country who have recently visited Italy, South Korea, Egypt and Lebanon to isolate themselves for two weeks.
Organisers had earlier suspended ticket sales as they assessed how many spectators would be allowed to attend the race.
The Grand Prix, Bahrain’s biggest global sporting event, reported a record three-day crowd of 97,000 in 2019, with 34,000 on the Sunday.
Tourism is an important contributor to Bahrain’s economy, which in recent years has been in deficit and sought bailouts from its wealthier Gulf Arab neighbours.
Concerns over rapid spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 145 people and infected 5,823 others in Iran, has led to a raft of major events including concerts being cancelled in the Gulf region.
The Bahrain Grand Prix is one of two F1 races held in the Gulf, with Abu Dhabi hosting the closing race in November. The Chinese Grand Prix
The opening race of the season, the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, is scheduled to be held on March 15.
“In consultation with our international partners and the Kingdom’s national health Taskforce, Bahrain has made the decision to hold this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix as a participants-only event.
“As an F1 host nation, balancing the welfare of supporters and racegoers is a tremendous responsibility. Given the continued spread of Covid-19 globally, convening a major sporting event, which is open to the public and allows thousands of international travellers and local fans to interact in close proximity would not be the right thing to do at the present time.
But to ensure that neither the sport, nor its global supporter base, is unduly impacted, the race weekend itself will still go ahead as a televised event.
“Bahrain’s own early actions to prevent, identify and isolate cases of individuals with Covid-19 has been extremely successful to date. The approach has involved rapid, proactive measures, identifying those affected by the virus, of which the overwhelming majority of cases relate to those travelling into the country by air.
“Aggressive social distancing measures have further increased the effectiveness of preventing the virus’ spread, something that would clearly be near impossible to maintain were the race to have proceeded as originally planned.
“We know how disappointed many will be by this news, especially for those planning to travel to the event, which has become a cornerstone event of the international F1 calendar, but safety has to remain our utmost priority.”
Bahrain has been one of the hardest-hit countries by COVID-19 infections relative to the size of its population, with over 80 confirmed cases in the small gulf island state.