BUS Cyril Abiteboul1
Renault's Cyril Abiteboul Image Credit:

Dubai: Two of the more brilliant and astute minds in sports management have teamed up to discover a range of positives following the anticipated return of golf and Formula 1 racing into the sporting fold this summer.

Cyril Abiteboul, Managing Director of the Renault DP World F1 team, and Keith Pelley, CEO of the European Tour, opened up over the challenges they have faced so far while dealing with life and sport during the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keith Pelley, CEO of the European Tour

Part of a three-episode miniseries produced and made available by common partner DP World, both officials delved on their own line of thinking while tackling the issues faced in their respective sport.

As it happens, both the sports will get under way within a week of each other in Austria.

F1’s first race post-COVID lockdown will held at the Red Bull Ring from July 3-5, while the European Tour, that stopped after the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters on March 8, will also get under way with the Austrian Open near Vienna from July 9-12.

“My job changed overnight as we went from a growth business to a momentum business, and to me it’s been one of the most trying and challenging time. And this one point has been absolutely critical,” Abiteboul said.

Moving F1’s staff that is in excess of 2,000 personnel, including teams and drivers, can be quite a challenge, but it is something that the Renault team boss has enjoyed so far. “There have been drastic guidelines and rules in place, but we’ve been successful in moving ahead our sport with an openness and clarity like never before,” he said.

Handling a sporting operation that sees the movement of more than 500 staff across 31 countries is just one part of the challenge for the 56-year-old Pelley, who resigned as president of Rogers Media to become the Commissioner and CEO of the PGA European Tour in April 2015.

Based at the Wentworth Club in Surrey, England, the European Tour operates three leading men’s professional golf tours in Europe, namely the elite European Tour, the European Senior Tour (for players above 50 years) and the developmental Challenge Tour.

The DP World Tour Championship held on the Earth Course of Jumeirah Golf Estates is the annual climax of the European Tour Race to Dubai. Running an operation that crosses the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa is going to be a veritable challenge for golf going forward.

“Dealing with 31 different governments that have a different set of rules and regulations especially in these special times has been one of the toughest challenges for golf,” Pelley admitted.

“But that’s when the supportive partners come in. For example, we had to meet up with officials from DP World and inform them of a change in dates for the year-end event simply because the dates for The Masters in Augusta were also around the same time. It was simply amazing how DP World responded and in fact asked us how they can be a supportive partner to us.”

Abiteboul also pointed out to an evolution in Formula 1 while dealing with partners, sponsors, suppliers and staff during the pandemic. “We were better prepared to face this complicated unchartered territory, but what made it easier for me was the fact that everyone remained so open and transparent about the difficulties each one was facing during this unique time in our history,” the Frenchman said.

“For once, everyone was open. No longer was anyone willing to keep his cards close to the chest. And honestly, it has been this one attribute that has helped us accomplish an awful lot with everyone we’ve been dealing with.”

Pelley added: “At this stage, I would love to have 30,000 fans come and cheer the players on at the Earth course in December. But, I would be glad to have our partners and key sponsors of the European Tour as that would be the real win this season.

“For sure, it will be a very difficult thing to get back to that point where we can have 30,000 people on the course on a weekly basis. But there is hope.”