#ChallengeBahrain, an island in gridlock and a social media backlash

If you were planning to enjoy a quiet weekend in Bahrain this weekend, you’ll have been disappointed. Most likely, you’ll have also spent your Saturday stuck in traffic. The island kingdom was host to Challenge Bahrain, a professional triathlon with a $500,000 prize purse. Most importantly, for the smallest country in the Gulf (which measures a whopping 765.3 km²), the Challenge Bahrain triathlon covered a total of 113 kilometers.

The size of the triathlon meant that many of the roads around Bahrain were closed for most of Saturday, including the island’s key highways such as King Faisal Highway, and Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Causeway. Unfortunately, most of Bahrain’s residents seemed to be unaware that there was 1) a race, and 2) that the race would mean traffic chaos during the weekend.

To give you an idea of how much the race affected the island, this is a map of the race's path across Bahrain

To give you an idea of how much the race affected the island, this is a map of the race’s path across Bahrain

The ensuing disruption to traffic meant that most people decided to stay at home. Instead, they vented their annoyance online, on social media. To give you an idea of how popular the topic became, have a look at the below analysis from Keyhole, and remember that the total population of Bahrain is just over 1.3 million people.

An analysis of the #ChallengeBahrain hashtag by Keyhole

An analysis of the #ChallengeBahrain hashtag by Keyhole

Tweeting and messaging with the hashtags #ChallengeBahrain and #ترايثلون_البحرين Bahrainis showed their feelings about the race and its planning. They let the race organizers know of their displeasure.

A small selection of the Twitter posts using the hashtag #ChallengeBahrain

A small selection of the Twitter posts using the hashtag #ChallengeBahrain

More tweets from yesterday's #ChallengeBahrain

More tweets from yesterday’s #ChallengeBahrain

For those heading to the airport it was even worse. As many of the roads to Bahrain International Airport were closed people had to walk for kilometers just to make it to the terminal.

Images of the traffic from Al-Deir and Samaheej near to the Bahrain International Airport. People had to walk for miles to reach the terminal building.

Images of the traffic from Al-Deir and Samaheej near to the Bahrain International Airport. People had to walk for miles to reach the terminal building.

Unfortunately, Bahrain’s Gulf Air was one of the sponsors. Forty two flights were delayed due to transportation in and around the Airport; hardly the type of brand association any airline would need.

The traffic was so bad that even Bahrain’s chief traffic cop had to apologize publicly for the mess.

Bahrain's top traffic cop apologizes for the gridlock during #ChallengeBahrain

Bahrain’s top traffic cop apologizes for the gridlock during #ChallengeBahrain

Some Bahrainis did see the funny side. Many created and shared memes, particularly on dark social sites such as Whatsapp, hinting at how successful the event had been in shutting down Bahrain, a feat which even Bahrain’s main political opposition couldn’t achieve.

A meme of AlWefaq's leader and #ChallengeBahrain

A meme of AlWefaq’s leader and #ChallengeBahrain

While the event came to a close on the same day, many of the organizers are looking ahead to 2015 and the second edition of Challenge Bahrain. For most Bahrainis, their hope is that someone will be listening to their social media and that whatever happens next year will not impact the island on the scale as they saw yesterday. If it takes several months to get in shape for a triathlon, I can’t wait to see what the island’s residents have in store for next year’s gridlock as they prepare over the next 12 months for Challenge Bahrain 2015.

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