ONE of the most respected figures in world cycling Rod Ellingworth will become team principal, Team Bahrain-Merida, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) WorldTour professional cycling team, from October.
The team, a joint venture between Bahrain World Tour Cycling and McLaren, has quickly established itself as a new force in professional cycling.
Ellingworth, 46, who has played a key role in both Olympic and World Tour cycling successes across two decades, said: “I’m delighted to be joining Team Bahrain-Merida as team principal.
“Since the team’s break-through season in 2017, I’ve been impressed by its competitiveness. McLaren’s co-ownership of the team now provides a unique opportunity to look at every area of performance with a fresh perspective – and I find this massively appealing.
“I’m also excited by the opportunity to bring my own knowledge and ideas to the team and can’t wait to get stuck in.”
His identification and development of some of the best professional cycling talent over the past decade is well-recognised. Ellingworth officially begins at Team Bahrain-Merida in October but in the interim he will be working with the team’s leadership to plan for 2020 and beyond.
Founded by Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, representative of His Majesty the King for Charity Works and Youth Affairs, Supreme Council for Youth and Sports chairman and Bahrain Olympic Committee president, the team has been supported by a number of local businesses too and cycles in Bahrain’s national colours.
The aim has been to help elevate the country into the global consciousness again, alongside the kingdom’s Formula One endeavours. The team, consisting of pro-cyclists from a plethora of countries and continents and participates in a variety of UCI events.
GM Brent Copeland continues with the team in his current role, and he will work with Ellingworth to determine the ‘most effective’ future processes and structures.
The team has had some recent successes, notably in May with rider Jan Tratnik proving himself the most skilled rider on a technical course to take victory in the prologue stage at the Tour de Romandie, as reported in GulfWeekly.
The Slovenian overcame strong competition on the opening day in Switzerland, finishing a second ahead of defending champion Primož Roglič. Tratnik took the leader’s jersey with Roglič, the best placed general classification contender in second, while reigning Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) came fifth at just four seconds down.
The triumphant Tratnik said at the time: “It was really special, my first World Tour win and my first in a Bahrain-Merida jersey!”
McLaren Group, partly-owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat, is globally-renowned as one of the world’s most illustrious high-technology brands and become a 50 per cent joint venture partner in Team Bahrain Merida in December 2018.
The partnership is rooted in three key areas: technical collaboration, human high-performance and marketing and commercial services, delivered through McLaren Applied Technologies and the group’s marketing specialists.
The move signalled the continued ambition of the McLaren Group to innovate at the intersection of technology and human endeavour, and reflected the ‘collective vision’ of its Bahraini ownership to unite its investments in sport and technology through McLaren and Team Bahrain Merida.
McLaren Applied Technologies undertakes challenging projects that naturally fit with McLaren’s skills, experience and technical capacity. Competition, racing and the combination of athlete and machine are the lifeblood of McLaren’s 50-year-plus history and cycling is one of the rawest examples of all those elements coming together.
Getting former Team Sky performance director Ellingworth is considered quite a coup by the cycling media. He had worked with Team Sky since its creation in 2010, playing a part in their Tour de France victories, and also taking on several roles in British Cycling, where he left his position as the men’s national team coach last year.
Mark Cavendish is one of the many riders who has been influenced by Ellingworth with the former Tour de France winner stating in several interviews that he had learned a lot from Ellingworth … and not only about cycling. Ellingworth worked on Cavendish’s hill climbing by motorcycling up a hill and making him chase him to the top.
Following the decision by British media company, Sky UK, not to renew sponsorship, the team secured financial support from the British chemicals group Ineos, with the team thereby renamed as Team INEOS since April.
Ellingworth is currently on gardening leave from Team Ineos, having worked alongside GM Dave Brailsford since their British Cycling days, and will officially leave over the summer. He is no longer listed on the team’s website.
The 46-year-old will now go up against his old boss in WorldTour races and will find himself with similar financial backing. One source close to the squad said there were plans to apply F1-level analytics to cycling and that the squad has ambitions to be ‘the Han Solo to Ineos’s Darth Vader’.
Cycling Weekly also reported that rider Chris Froome had said losing Ellingworth would be a ‘big blow’ for the team. “Rod’s been there from the very start for me, even before the Team Sky days,” Froome said. “It is a big blow. Suddenly we’re going to miss Rod Ellingworth at Team Ineos going forward.
“We obviously wish him all the best, he’s only going to keep adding a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new team in the future.”
Delighted John Allert, the MD of McLaren Pro Cycling, and a board director of McLaren Racing, said: “Rod’s appointment as team principal of Team Bahrain-Merida underscores our determination to succeed at the top level of this great sport.
“His remarkable track record, coupled with the respect he has earned throughout the cycling community, make Rod the perfect leader for this next chapter in the team’s development.
“Despite his abundant experience, Rod’s voracious appetite for new knowledge and innovative approaches to traditional challenges perfectly complements the team ethos. We are delighted to welcome him to the team.”
TO make an impression in the highly-competitive Friday brunch scene on the island you have to tick all the boxes and add a unique touch of brilliance to the proceedings.
Jumeirah Royal Saray Bahrain has lots to offer, a picturesque seaside beach view, a stunning ambience, cool tunes played by a pretty DJ that doesn’t drown out the conversation, prompt polite service, affordable prices and a selection of tasty surprises amidst its signature dishes.
So that’s ticked about all the boxes I could think of and I’m normally pretty hard to please.
This was our first taste of the brunch experience at the latest five star addition to the Seef coast and the good lady wife, Kathryn and I were joined by my colleague Jalal Muradi who was celebrating his birthday (he’d kept quiet about that but my good friend the Whisperer had tipped me off) with his wife, Zainab.
I’d met the amiable Executive Chef Jocelyn Argaud a few weeks back at the opening of the hotel’s Ramadan tent and was mightily impressed by the cuisine and hoped one of the delights in particular would feature on the spread.
With 19 years of experience in French Michelin star restaurants and international fine dining establishments, he also boasts a royal seal of approval having dished up delights exclusively for members of a Gulf state’s royal family too, according to reliable sources.
He did not disappoint and I’ll come to that later. There was so much more to celebrate from starters to main course choices too with a live grill cooking station outside and a pasta chef and crepe creator dishing up delights inside, amongst others.
There were the expected elements too with fresh crab, king prawns and oysters on icy displays, brilliant olive bread and French mini-baguettes to soak up the sauces, a sushi bar and a salad selection featuring Arabic favourites such as Moutabel, Tabooleh and Baba Ganoush, plus European choices including a superb Seafood Salad with mussels and octopus amongst the mixture.
A retro step back in time came in the shape of a Prawn Cocktail with a modern twist by replacing the traditional slushy mayonnaise, cream, ketchup, lemon juice and Tabasco pink sauce with a jelly.
There was a standout Grape with Blue Cheese and Pistachio, perfectly presented as a single serving, with an explosion of taste as Chef Jocelyn explained. It was a combination of awe-inspiring sweetness of the fruit, bitterness of the fabulous fromage and the crunchiness of the nut. It’s all about the balance and one of those treats that simply hypnotises your culinary senses. More, more, more.
I loved the setting of the Brasserie Royale and the Palm Lounge and when I bumped into the warm and welcoming GM Spencer H. Wadama he thought chef’s cuisine combined with the location was a winning combination with the numbers of diners increasing as word spreads around the community.
With the mains, there were familiar dishes such as Chicken Biryani and Butter Chicken, alongside Braised Beef but I was particularly impressed by the fresh fish offerings, in particular a superb King Fish Ouzi, a tasty fillet placed on a bed of exotic rice, a combination I had never tried before which worked magnificently and made an interesting change from lamb, and the grilled Sea Bass was on a par.
I had to put the outside mix grill to the test too and enjoyed a couple of lamb chops cooked to perfection and the Sand Lobster was superb.
The Jumeirah Royal Saray Bahrain, in the relatively short time since its opening, has built up a fine reputation for its desserts and the choices were impressive with bite-sized Lemon Meringue, Raspberry Panna-Cotta, Tiramisu, Chocolate Brownies, fruit including a perfectly sliced and shaped pineapple display and freshly-made ice-cream in abundance … but it was the resort’s celebrated signature dessert that inspired me to recently set up the Sticky Toffee Pudding Bahrain Fan Club page of Facebook.
Jolly Chef Jocelyn made this old man weep with joy as one of the main dessert attractions were his single mountains of magnificence swimming in a sea of yumminess. With, or without a helping of vanilla ice-cream this dish is worth the brunch investment alone.
Brunch the Brasserie Way for BD27net inclusive of soft drinks or BD35net, with selected beverages. Call 77707070 for more details and to book a table. Check out Stan’s interview with Chef Jocelyn and GM Spencer by visiting GulfWeekly’s YouTube page.
A teacher handed out a small gift to students in her Bahrain class to help ease the stress before their examinations and was stunned to find out that years later one of the pupils was still carrying the good luck charm on his global travels … after a chance encounter in Japan.
Former St Christopher’s School’s head of psychology Lizzie Banks, now living in Singapore, met up with South African teenager William Perois, after receiving a photograph of him holding the treasured ‘worry doll’ whilst she was on vacation.
Worry dolls (also called trouble dolls; in Spanish, Muñeca quitapena) are small, hand-made dolls that originate from Guatemala. According to legend, Guatemalan children tell their worries to the worry dolls, placing them under their pillow when they go to bed at night. By morning the dolls have gifted them with the wisdom and knowledge to eliminate their worries.
“One of the many best things that happened in Japan was receiving an email from a student I taught two years ago,” she explained. “Attached was a photograph of the Guatemalan worry doll that I gave him before his final exam for luck!
“It turns out that he has been carrying it around in his wallet ever since and wanted me to know that it was enjoying another world adventure in Tokyo!”
Given that she was only down the road in Yokohama, a couple of days later the ‘three of them’ were reunited over a plate of Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savoury pancake.
“His doll had lost an arm and his head and was all bashed in but Will was thriving!” added Brit Lizzie, 52, who is married to US Navy commander John Tinetti.
The story of the worry doll is a local Mayan legend. The origin of the Muñeca quitapena refers to a Mayan princess named Ixmucane. The princess received a special gift from the sun god that allowed her to solve any problem a human could worry about. The worry doll represents the princess and her wisdom.
William, 19, was a student of St Christopher’s School from 2015 to 2017, graduating with aspirations of becoming an actor. He said: “During my final exams, Mrs Banks gave every student in our class the small ‘worry doll’ which bring fortune and relieve stress, to wish us good luck on our exams.
“The day I got the doll, I put it in my wallet and kept it there.”
Will decided to take a gap year after graduating, joining Spartan Fitness Bahrain as a personal trainer for around six months, as well as performing small pieces of theatre around Bahrain.
“From my work, I had saved up enough money to afford my trip to Japan that I wanted to take,” he explained. “I wanted to learn and speak Japanese, as an extra skill for my acting career as well as the country and language being beautiful.
“After a lot of planning I found a school in Central Tokyo and made the plans accordingly.
“After having been in Tokyo for two months, I found myself in a Darts Bar, a very popular type of facility in Japan. Whilst paying, the worry doll I had kept on my person for nearly three years dropped out. ‘Why not email Mrs Banks?’, I thought. And so I did, with a ‘hello from Tokyo’ message.
“I was surprised to not only receive an email back within minutes, but an email saying that Mrs Banks was also in Japan and about to visit Tokyo the coming weekend!
“We organised it and met in an Okonomiyaki restaurant in Shibuya, minutes from the famous Shibuya crossing.
“Ironically, we had kept in touch after St Christopher’s, but never had an opportunity to meet and reminisce about our time in Bahrain. Yet this opportunity presented itself in the Land of the Rising Sun, by complete chance after sending a quick ‘hello’ email. Luck? Who knows?”
FRIENDS of an autistic artist living in Bahrain have rallied round to support his dream of attending a residential camp for differently-abled adults in Canada for two weeks during the summer.
Within a matter of days almost half of the cost of the adventure has been met by well-wishers after a gofundme social media page was set up for Othmann Al Attar by his family.
“I just love art,” he told his mother, Christine Gordon, an expat British long-term Bahrain resident who has dedicated her life to caring for children with special needs and received a top UK honour for her services to education and charitable causes.
Othmann – diagnosed with autism at the age of three – has always loved to draw. His mum would find him making his mark on the walls of their apartment at a very young age and quickly discovered that he was calmest with a pencil or paintbrush in his hand.
Fast forward 20 years and self-taught, naturally-talented Othmann has been showing his art to the world since family friend, Dr Sarah Clarke, discovered that he had an incredible gift for ‘up-scaling’ and interpreting small images into huge works of art, sometimes several metres high.
He is often seen working alongside other amateur and professional artists at inclusive art events organised by Sarah, founder of the Baloo’s Buddies programme at RIA Centre, an inclusive education centre that caters to the needs of students in Bahrain with special needs.
As reported earlier in GulfWeekly, the facility was set up in 1999 by singer Christine and her husband, Emad, a chemist and fellow musician. It has grown from a humble beginning with seven youngsters to an operation catering for between 70 and 140 students.
“My jaw dropped when I saw him do his first work,” explained Sarah. “He took a tiny image of the Harbour Gate’s 2017 National Day Logo and painted it on a very uneven outside wall at RIA centre – no preparation, no measurement, nothing. He completed a perfect 1.5m replica in minutes!”
Since that first challenge, Othmann has created more greatly-admired works of art at various inclusion events such as Art for Autism Awareness in April 2018, #Inclusive Team Bahrain in December 2018 and this year’s Train around Bahrain and Trash to Treasure events held at Harbour Gate, including more large works, as well as smaller intricate T-Shirt art designs.
He’s currently working as part of a team on a major new project with the working title of Arty the Autism Camel. Further details will be announced in the near future on GDNonline.
Both the British and American ambassadors, Simon Martin and Justin Siberell, respectably, have spoken of their admiration of his work and fellow artists working with him often can’t believe what they see – for someone unable to easily communicate through words, his art certainly speaks for itself.
“At RIA Centre whenever we need a poster we ask Othmann to do it – it’s a joy to watch him in his artistic zone doing what he loves best,” said proud mum and founder Christine, who in 2015 was named on the Queen’s honours list to receive the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). “I never realised quite how talented he was until Sarah pointed it out to me!”
After 23 years always at his family’s side, Christine hoped this year could be different for her dedicated and creative son. “He’s been working very hard on our behalf spreading the inclusion message through his art. We think he deserves a break from us!”
Unfortunately, the family didn’t have the financial reserves at the moment, so friends decided to step in to offer support for him to attend Belwood Lodge in Ontario for a longer spell after spending only one day at the facility last year.
He enjoyed an ‘amazing experience’ and gained so much from it. Friends and fellow artists are convinced that as he mostly communicates through art and hands-on exploration of the world, the Lodge would be perfect for helping him to fulfil his potential.
The aim of the camp is to provide an engaging, safe, open setting that offers an opportunity to make new friends, build on current friendships and develop new social skills, all while guests, quite simply, have plenty of fun.
“Happily we’re almost half way to our goal but, although his place has been reserved, they can’t hold it open indefinitely,” explained Christine. “I’ve spent the last 20 years raising money for RIA and thought now it was Othmann’s turn.”
It will cost $2,000 Canadian dollars (around BD570), plus airfare from Bahrain which is another CD$1,500 (around BD426) which includes transport to and from the lodge. Othmann’s Go Fund Me link is: gf.me/u/srgn7q and https://www.gofundme.com/for-a-special-break-from-parents.
Check out more of his artwork on Instagram: @othmannel
Conceived as a good-luck charm in the heroic period of motorsports, the Quadrifoglio (four-leaf clover) – written with a capital ‘Q’ – has distinguished the sports and industrial history of Alfa Romeo, and has become the logo for race cars and for the Italian marque’s more powerful and exclusive road vehicles.
Today, the standard-bearers in the new Alfa Romeo generation are the Giulia and Stelvio models, both of which bear the legendary Quadrifoglio badge, which certifies their qualities in terms of class-topping performance, handling and weight/power ratio, specific external and internal features, exclusive power-plants and a genuine Alfa Romeo sound.
They needed to be put to the test and the opportunity came with an invitation to a special media soiree for an ‘Alfa Romeo Golf Experiential Day’ in the UAE.
It meant travelling the night before and to keep within the theme, the organisers of the trip insisted on putting the guests up at the Palazzi Versace Dubai Hotel. The rooms have been designed by the Italian luxury fashion company and the five star property allows guests to experience ‘luxury and fashion’ on the creek.
As logos were going to play an important part on this trip, it should be noted that the Versace uses the head of Medusa, a Greek mythological figure. The logo came from the floor of ruins in the area of Reggio Calabria that the Versace siblings played in as children. Founder Gianni chose it because she made people fall in love with her and they had no way back. He hoped the company he founded in 1978 would have the same effect on people.
The selection of Giulia and Stelvio Quadrifoglio models parked outside the hotel did not look out of place and within seconds of sitting behind the wheels of both vehicles, which each come with a BD40,000 price tag, my heart was melting Medusa-style too.
I’m not the only one, some of the world’s most critical motoring journalists have waxed lyrical about these beasts, so I don’t feel guilty about feeling overwhelmed by their style, grace and acceleration … but more of that later.
The good lady wife, Kathryn, and my golfing buddies, may have guffawed at the very idea of me being invited on a combined test drive and playing experience.
For some unknown reason, she thinks I’m a dreadful driver blaming me for every scrape, prang or near-miss … and the players at the Royal Golf Club (RGC) and Awali will never let me live down the day I landed one of their compatriots in hospital after he walked behind me as I was practicing a swing. Accidents happen, people.
After booking in after a business class flight of less than an hour and resting in my Versace-attired room, I joined a select group of writers for Part One of the motoring experience on a trip behind the wheel of a red Stelvio Quadrifoglio to the Arabian Ranches Golf Club (ARGC), managed by Troon, the company associated with our own RGC.
It was a game of ‘follow the leader’, which was quite handy as although I’m used to the highways of Bahrain and Europe, Dubai has followed the US-style of multi-lane mystery and guaranteed mayhem.
Within 10 minutes we were stuck in a giant traffic jam after a lorry had crashed on its side spilling its load and one-hour later we were still no closer to our destination.
At least it gave me and my passenger, a smashing chap called Mohammed from Oman, who I thought was very sporting in letting me get first drive of the machine, the chance to get to know the car. Fortunately, he was totally oblivious of my driving mishaps both on the road and on the golf course.
It gave us a chance to admire our fully loaded test car, even the standard leather front seats had been exchanged for a pair of carbon fibre-backed buckets. They do a great job of keeping driver and passenger in place and go a long way to giving the interior a sporting feel.
On both vehicles, the interior had been tailored like an exquisite bespoke suit, with craftsmanship and premium materials – carbon fibre, leather and Alcantara, a microfibre material manufactured and marketed in Milan.
As expected, cabin refinement is superb and the Quadrifoglio gets plenty of standard kit, including a state-of-the-art infotainment system, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, an electric sunroof and 14-speaker sound system.
When the traffic finally cleared, we had to make up for lost time. The Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s first-ever SUV, is a premium mid-size vehicle. The renowned Italian approach to design has created an un-precedented and unmistakable vehicle that combines the comfort and the roominess of its category with the driving pleasure and the sporty performance that only a true Alfa Romeo can offer.
Designed for driving enthusiasts, it screams new standards in performance, style and technology. The high performance 510hp Stelvio Quadrifoglio has been recognised as the fastest production SUV around the famous German Nürburgring track, holding a record lap time of seven minutes and 51.7 seconds. But, as an SUV, it must also be comfortable, safe and spacious enough to collect the children from school and do a weekly shop on the way home.
It ticks all the boxes and there’s room in the boot for the golf clubs, of course.
Regarded as one of the Middle East’s most popular and best conditioned golf destinations, ARGC helps showcase the Alfa Romeo brand’s traditional values of passion, sporty style, exquisite taste and performance, all of which are perfectly encapsulated by the latest generation of exciting vehicles - the Giulia and Stelvio.
I did not let Bahrain down. We practiced on the driving range and on the putting green and when it came to the media competition on a golf course simulator the lucky Quadrifoglio exposure was working overtime on my swing.
Hitting my drive sweetly to a putting distance from the pin, the only person closer was a professional who stepped up at the end of the show … but not before I’d run a lap of honour around the tables in the restaurant next door celebrating victory.
With my head down from the clouds, we set off back to the hotel with Mohammed driving as I bored him with tales of perfect golfing positioning.
Later, alone in my room, under my divine Versace duvet, I dreamed of fast cars.
In the morning that dream became a reality. We set off on a road test adventure in the desert on a straight stretch of road away from the crowds. This might be the first-ever SUV to wear the coveted cloverleaf badge, but the Stelvio Quadrifoglio means something even greater for Alfa Romeo.
It’s the second stage of a momentous return to form and the ‘exclamation point’ to follow the red-blooded Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon that reaffirmed the brand’s ability to produce true performance cars.
The Stelvio is every bit as aggressive and explosively powerful as its extended wheel arches, angular bonnet vents and enlarged quad tailpipes suggest, with an equally intoxicating soundtrack to match, as the videos on my test drive experience prove.
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio sounds mean enough in Dynamic mode, but the gloves come off completely when Alfa’s DNA drive knob is dialled up to Race: upshifts sound like gunshots and the engine truly roars. The performance figures are equally dramatic.
The Giulia and Stelvio Quadrifoglio, with their all-aluminium 2.9-litre V6 bi-turbo petrol engines deliver 510 horsepower and 600 Nm of torque and are fitted with an 8 speed automatic transmission.
The Giulia Quadrifoglio guarantees thrilling performance: a top speed of 307 km/h and 0-100 km/h acceleration in just 3.9 seconds. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio reaches a top speed of 283 km/h and ac-celeration from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.8 seconds.
I swapped over for a drive in a beautiful blue Giulia Quadrifoglio later in the morning.
The technology behind it has been created to enhance performance and to give great driving sensations. The human /machine relationship is always at the core of all innovation, according to the technicians, to create a car that is a ‘natural extension of the body, the mind and the heart of the driver’.
The new Giulia Quadrifoglio isn’t just the fastest road sedan ever produced by Alfa Romeo. The most important emotion at the wheel that this car can deliver is pure thrills. Everything is engineered for uncompromising driving pleasure.
The powertrain system is more than a showcase for the best power-to-weight ratio in its class, it’s a study in how to use that power. Its perfect 50:50 weight distribution creates optimal balance and showcases the advantage of a rear-wheel-drive system in a front-engined vehicle.
By pairing rear-wheel drive with the front-mounted, all-aluminum six-cylinder engine, the Alfa Romeo engineering team was able to carefully distribute weight throughout the chassis.
On this particular jolly jaunt, I was now sat next to one of the marque’s representatives who insisted I put the ‘pedal to the metal’. I did and ‘wow’ … so that’s why it holds the other Nürburgring lap time record … for the fastest sedan.
The Giulia Quadrifoglio represents more than the most powerful this car maker ever created for street use. It represents a convergence of engineering and emotion that can only belong to a brand as fabled as Alfa Romeo.
Here’s to a sports badge born 106 years ago that still stands for something totally original today: a passion for motoring unlike any other. Visceral. Energetic. Technological. Crafted. Viva l’Italia!
The story of Alfa Romeo’s Quadrifoglio badge starts with driver Ugo Sivocci who was quick but often not able to secure victory, earning him the reputation as a driver who never had Lady Fortune on his side.
In 1923 he was so fed up that he decided to add a symbol of luck to his Alfa Romeo racing car: a four-leaf clover.
Sivocci won the 1923 Targa Florio and, apart from his talent behind the wheel, it seemed as though the Quadrifoglio helped win him the race.
But was the symbol to overcome superstition or for some other reason? As historians write, the clo-verleaf may have been a way for spectators, road users and other competitors to more quickly see Sivocci’s car from a distance as the roads raced at the time were often unpaved and dusty.
Sivocci tragically died later that year during practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza … the now well-known symbol hadn’t yet been painted on his Alfa Romeo P1 race car.
His death was recognised in a symbolic change to the Quadrifoglio: before Monza, the clover sat inside a white diamond, each point said to represent each of the Alfa Romeo factory drivers.
When Sivocci died, one of the points was removed, creating the Quadrifoglio triangle emblem that continues to this day. It is now used as a symbolic link to Alfa Romeo’s rich racing heritage, the four-leaf clover can be seen on sportier trim levels of the company’s sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks.
Facebook is finalising plans to launch its own crypto-currency next year and pioneers in the sector believe the move will bring more devotees to the banking disruptors and make FinTech a mainstream payment choice.
The social media giant is planning to set up a digital payments system in about a dozen countries by the first quarter of 2020, as highlighted on GDN-online, the popular portal of our sister newspaper.
A new digital payments system would be launched in about a dozen countries, starting early next year, the BBC reported on its website.
Previous reports have said Facebook has been taking a serious look at block chain technology under its Project Libra, in part to tackle doubts about privacy among its many users following a series of scandals.
But the targetted date appears new. The BBC said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg met Bank of England governor Mark Carney last month to discuss the opportunities and risks involved in launching a crypto-currency, plus officials at the US Treasury.
Facebook’s currency, which has been referred to internally as GlobalCoin, would be a digital unit pegged to the dollar in contrast to more anarchic means of virtual payment such as bitcoin.
With more than two billion users across its platforms, which include WhatsApp and Instagram, Facebook could have the clout to take a crypto currency mainstream, analysts’ suggest.
Garrick Hileman, a researcher at London School of Economics, said the GlobalCoin project could be one of the most significant events in the short history of crypto-currencies. Conservatively, he estimated that around 30 million people use crypto-currencies today. That compares to Facebook’s 2.4 billion monthly users.
Entrepreneur Jamal Al Mutawa, the man behind the only live crypto-currency automated teller machine (ATM) in the MENA region, couldn’t agree more.
“It will bring practical awareness to many more people about crypto-currencies, their use and convenience,” he said. “If Facebook does it right, it will also set the standard for a more friendly, easier user experience, right now the crypto wallets are all right but might scare or confuse some people.
“I see it similar to the introduction of the Web Browser that opened the internet to everyone-else, when previously it was an area only for academics and some corporations.”
The Crypto ATM from Basket SPC at Bahrain FinTech Bay, inside the Arcapita Building, allows people to buy and sell crypto-currencies or coins using cash.
Jamal, a former business support systems / operations support systems director at Zain Group, said that although his new business was still in the Central Bank of Bahrain’s ‘sandbox process’, he is confident that once the bank sees the operation as ‘competent and following the conditions set forth by the CBB’, Basket will be allowed to operate in Bahrain, as reported in FinTech Focus.
“Distribution is a challenge especially for the unbanked,” he said. “A crypto ATM is the perfect on-boarding tool for the unbanked or small amounts.”
ONE of the region’s leading Christian ministers, known as ‘Father Bill’ in Bahrain, will be officially installed as Dean of St Christopher’s Cathedral on Saturday at a ceremony in Manama.
Although he takes up his new role for the first time following the departure of The Very Reverend Chris Butt, the American has close connections to the kingdom as part of a 44-year-long passion for the Middle East, where he got engaged to his beloved wife, Edie.
“Because I’ve been visiting Bahrain for more than 30 years there aren’t actually ‘first’ impressions at this point,” he told GulfWeekly. “However, I can say that as I settle in I’m finding Bahrain is more relaxed than other places we’ve lived.
“We feel very welcomed by those we have met, and especially by the people of St Christopher’s. I’m sure living here will be very fulfilling.
“I’m somewhat surprised to find that there is no need to speak Arabic since all of the Bahrainis I’ve met speak English well. Nothing is far away, so getting to and from places is easy.
“We like living in the old part of Manama and the ability to walk to many places. I’m particularly encouraged with the historic openness among Bahrainis to embracing the expatriates in their midst, and the acceptance of non-Islamic religious traditions.
“St Christopher’s is a welcoming community. All are welcome regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or your church background. I speak English and American and can spell both! Learning of cultures and making friends from all over the world has been a lifelong joy. I look forward to making many friends here.”
Father Bill spent time looking after the St Christopher’s community two years ago when Dean Chris was on sabbatical and was also made an honorary Canon of the Cathedral.
So how did a young man born in 1952 in Omaha, Nebraska fall in love with the Middle East?
It all started when he went to Egypt in the autumn of 1972 for a ’study abroad’ term and simply enjoyed it thoroughly.
“It was all so different, invigorating and challenging,” he said. “I had an immediate respect for Islam, while at the same time finding that the contrast of living as a Christian in an Islamic culture where religious identity is part of everything – as opposed to the secular culture of the United States – affirmed my desire to make my own Christian convictions real in my daily life, not just when I was ‘in’ church.
“It happened that the university offered me the position of running the study abroad programme for the ’73-’74 academic year. Experiencing the 1973 war between Egypt and Syria and Israel really challenged my inherited biases about ‘the Middle East’ crisis. After that one job followed another. It’s been a wonderful life.”
It’s also been a life with a mission to enlighten the many Christians who only know Islam from tragic headlines and inappropriate stereotypes.
His highly-acclaimed book Islam: A Christian Understanding (originally titled Islam: A religion, A Culture, A Society) is considered a ‘must read’ particularly for newly-arrived servicemen based with the US Navy in Juffair and expat businessmen settling into the region.
“After studying Islam while I was in Egypt, I have continually read and engaged with Muslims to try and understand Islam as Muslims understand being a Muslim,” he explained. “Of course, in that process I became more aware of the cultural filters we all engage in comprehending something new and strange.
“For years I have found myself explaining the difference between Christianity and Islam to people in my parishes and at conferences. I am particularly motivated to encourage interfaith understanding because of all of this.”
Father Bill certainly does not lack experience, having held positions in Saudi Arabia with an oil giant during particularly challenging times and helping to establish the first Christian church in Qatar … political hotspots by any measure.
“Every country has its own particularities,” he said. “Bahrain will be my sixth country of residence. Learning the things that make life here different from other places is all part of the adventure – here and everywhere else. Each country has its own challenges.
“It happens that the years we lived in Saudi Arabia were difficult for everyone, including the Saudi citizens, because of the eruption of terrorism in the country. Expats and Saudis alike suffered.
“My role as a morale officer for ARAMCO meant that I was in touch with many who were affected; victims, survivors, relatives, and the way the abrupt impositions of security changed the way we all lived.
“We all did our best to maintain ‘life as normal’ as much as we could. We have many happy memories of our time there and the friends we made.
“I can say that I enjoyed the special challenge of really planting a church in Qatar. Because there had been no history of recognised Christianity for centuries, unlike Bahrain and Kuwait and Oman, working with the government to establish infrastructure and understanding was very rewarding. Creating legal foundations for the Church to function was a mutual adventure for us and for the Qatari government.”
He will also continue to be Archdeacon in the Gulf where he has a glowing reputation as a ‘techie’ and a much-valued colleague and friend of The Right Rev Michael Lewis, Bishop of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, who will be flying into Bahrain to lead the formal celebration of his installation at St Christopher’s Cathedral.
“It will be a juggling of priorities, urgencies and important matters all of the time,” said Father Bill. “It won’t be easy to do both as well as if I had one or the other responsibility alone. However, the people of St Christopher’s and the bishop are all working with me to be helpful in every way. It helps that I’m something of a workaholic.”
The Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf comprises a huge geographical area, including Cyprus, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Yemen and the bishop is keen for his man to continue ‘discharging his wider responsibilities and bringing to bear his wisdom and unrivalled experience in the region from this new location’.
The new dean’s full title is The Very Reverend and Venerable Dr Bill Schwartz, OBE – he was made an honorary Officer of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 to recognise his work in the region – but he’s not one for airs and graces.
“The OBE was awarded in recognition of ‘services to the community’. When I received the call I was very surprised indeed, especially as I am not British,” he said. “At the time and until today I am deeply honoured that Her Majesty extended this honour to me.
“I don’t use the full title, which would only be used at very official occasions,” he explained. “Within the Bahrain context people call me either ‘Father Bill’ or ‘Dean’ because here I’m the dean of the cathedral, the local church. Outside of Bahrain where my function for the diocese is the archdeacon role, people call me archdeacon.
“Over the years I’ve held different kinds of administrative roles and have attended meetings our diocese has held here. In my responsibility as archdeacon over the past 10 years I’ve also had a particular role in significant liturgical celebrations in the life of the church here. For example, I have participated in various ordinations and installations of Canons – an honorary position extended by the bishop to clergy who have distinguished themselves in a particular way – in the cathedral.”
Father Bill is married to Edie and they have four children and two granddaughters.
“Edie and I were engaged in Aswan Egypt in the spring of 1976,” he said. “In the summer she went to the States to prepare for the wedding and I went to Ethiopia to work on a development project – a previous commitment - in culturally-appropriate housing in a rural area and low-tech windmill energy. I got to the wedding on time and a week later we were back in Egypt!”
In the following summer they moved to Cyprus to join a ministry bringing Christian Arab young people together to learn from each other’s’ experiences in their different countries. This led to increasing involvement in literature distribution and extended even more to introducing information technology (IT) to church people in the region.
“Helping and encouraging Arab church leaders to embrace technology in the service of the church was a real challenge in those days. I remember trying to explain how email will become the communication tool of the future – to serious disinterest because of the cost of the modems and the training needed to learn how to ‘do’ emails. But that is all history now!”
As part of this ministry he became the IT person for the bishop’s office in Nicosia, Cyprus. In 1989 the bishop at the time asked him to come and work at the office as his administrator – whence he became Diocesan Secretary-Treasurer for the next 10 years.
“Early on in that process the bishop also strongly encouraged me to consider training for ordination,” Father Bill explained. “After ordination four years later I carried on in my administrative role, which has always featured strongly in my work for and with the Church ever since.”
He did his theological studies for ordination in Cyprus and Wales, with some emphasis on the Orthodox tradition of Christianity. He was ordained deacon in Larnaca Cyprus and ordained priest at All Hallows by the Tower in London.
During the 1990s Edie also studied theology and became involved in different kinds of leadership in the parish wherever they lived and has been a licensed Lay Reader in the diocese ever since. Here for the ceremony and to help Father Bill settle in, she will continue to visit Bahrain from time to time, but Edie will be primarily living in the US for family reasons.
Taking up pastoral and parish responsibilities since 1999 was something of a natural development at the time, added Father Bill. “Coming to St Christopher’s carries on all of that background seamlessly.”
He will be serving in Bahrain for three years before he retires and resettles in the States to be closer to his family at that point.
The special service takes place at 6pm at St Christopher’s Cathedral on Saturday, which involves a public declaration of obedience to the bishop as the chief pastor and the bishop licensing him as his partner in ministry in this parish.
The members of the parish will also promise to work with him. All of this happens in the context of the Eucharist – a communion service.
“And yes, and everyone is welcome,” he said. “There will be a reception afterwards, so it’s good for us to know who is coming to ensure there is enough food!”
Technology is the basis of the development of economic sectors, writes guest columnist Brad Smith. Among the fastest advancing technology is insuretech.
This technology promises to revolutionize the insurance industry and ensure consumers access this important service in an improved manner. But did you know that insuretech is prone to cybercrime? Insuretech firms mainly rely on the personal information of their clients to deliver their services. For instance, the data from a fitness application in your smartphone or the wearable technology will be used by the company to tailor services that are geared towards your needs.
Health wearables are an important technology as they help you keep track of important health aspects. More to that, they provide important data that will enable your insurer to create an insurance policy that fully meets your needs. However, wearable fitness devices make you vulnerable to security threats. In the past, health wearables could only record your steps. Modern wearables have the capacity to even record intricate details like your bowel movements. This means that crucial data may fall into the wrong hands thus posing a threat to your overall security. With your data insecure, hackers can not only access your private information but can also change it. So, how can you improve your security even as you use fitness wearables?
Most fitness wearables and applications put fitness first instead of privacy. This puts users at risk of being attacked virtually or physically. Fortunately, you can still use the fitness wearables and secure yourself using these steps.
Data is a key driver for insuretech. However, it may also be the downfall of this promising technology. Therefore, it is important that fitness apps and wearables have the proper privacy features that will ensure user data is not used for malicious activities.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
Editor/Journalist & Blogger, Restaurant & Motors Reviewer, FinTech Writer, Manager, Trainer.
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