A festive carnival took place at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) yesterday making it the place to be as the kingdom marked Bahrain Sports Day, the annual celebration of every conceivable sporting activity.
Organised by the Bahrain Sports for All Association (BSAA), the sports day – actually a three-day event, running till tomorrow – was officially inaugurated by Supreme Council for Youth and Sport first deputy chairman, General Sports Authority chairman and Bahrain Olympic Committee president Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
Thousands of Bahrainis and expats headed to the BIC all day long as public and private sector organisations around the country arranged separate sporting events for top-level management and employees alike to participate in.
Professional athletes, amateurs and those just wanting to try their hand at any particular sport they fancied but never had the chance to before, mingled on the concourse in front of the entrance to the main BIC building. Behind it lay the racetrack: the scene of many a grand battle during the annual Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, a popular destination on the international F1 circuit.
Every national sports association and federation had set up shop, with small enclosures – each representing a different sport – spread across the concourse. While professional athletes were on hand to demonstrate their skills, every activity was open to anyone who wanted to join in – but only under strict supervision.
“Look at all the happy faces,” Mohammed Akram, a 19-year-old student on a cycle, said. “Families, older people, little children … they all understand the need to stay healthy and fit.
“Bahrain Sports Day emphasises the importance of sports in our lives. I was here last year as well along with most of my friends and cousins. All of us tried a different sport for the first time then and now, all of us have become pretty good at whatever we chose to take up.”
Loud music bellowed from humongous speakers before the MC suddenly turned the volume down to announce that Shaikh Khalid had arrived to inaugurate the event.
As visitors walked across the concourse, they were treated variously to the sight of first-time archers taking aim at a target, small children playing chess, young men practising judo, MMA exponents grappling, badminton players struggling to get the shuttlecock across the net because of a stiff breeze and padel tennis being played for the first time by ten-year-olds.
A 55-metre crane at one end of the concourse was being used for bungee-jumping while just a short distance away, two games of football were being played simultaneously and, just a little further on, four table-tennis tables, placed side-by-side, provided the scene for some intense battles.
Outside the weightlifting enclosure, Ahmed Sulaiman, 15, watched as a professional athlete demonstrated how to do a deadlift to a young man.
“This is so much fun,” he exclaimed. “Bahrain Sports Day allows everyone to enjoy themselves and try out different things. My entire family is here and my father says I can also try weightlifting once I’m over 16.”
As he spoke, a bunch of cyclists rode past followed by a group of joggers who smiled and waved at a crowd of schoolchildren who had just alighted from a bus.
“Everyone here understands how important it is to have a healthy lifestyle,” Sarah Ali, a 19-year-old college student, said. “Occasions like these give everyone the chance to try their hand at a new sport. I just played tennis for the first time in my life!”
Meanwhile, families milled around the food stalls at either end of the concourse while small children frolicked happily in play-areas, their mothers watching their every move attentively.
“My nine-year-old is playing football over there with her father,” Ayesha Malik, a mother-of-three, said as she sat at a table with her five-year-old twin girls. “These two younger ones just finished playing and now they’re hungry, so we’ve just ordered some snacks.”
As the day wore on and evening set in, even more people kept on arriving, some heading towards the concourse while others – mostly families – made a beeline for a temporary ‘festive city’ that had been set up in the BIC’s parking area, complete with roller-coasters and other rides along with more food stalls and a live band in attendance.
“I’m so happy to be back here,” Aliya Akram, a 20-year-old economics student, said. “I was here with my parents last year and they both played table tennis for the first time then.
“They liked the game so much that they got a table-tennis table delivered to our house soon afterwards. Now, it’s hard to drag them away from it! And they’re both so competitive, always telling each other that they’re going to beat them next time. My mother usually wins most of the time, though, much to my father’s chagrin!”