Michael Schumacher driving for Mercedes GP during a practices session in Bahrain, 2010. Photo credit: Andrew Griffith
FIA, Formula 1’s governing body, has confirmed that the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead on 22 April. The decision comes after much speculation about the event in the Gulf state, in which civil unrest has continued since protests in February 2011. Pro-democracy activists in Bahrain have called for the high-profile sporting event to be cancelled as it was last year. The BBC noted that the lucrative GP is closely tied with the ruling royal family, who are being pressured to improve human rights and make reforms by the majority Shia population, who accuse the minority ruling Sunnis of discrimination.
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone rejected claims that holding the event represents an unnecessary security risk. In an interview with the BBC, he said, “I’ve never heard anything that would lead me to believe it isn’t [safe]. People who live there and work there on a daily basis tell me everything’s normal. Things can change anywhere anytime, but I don’t imagine it will. I’d be very surprised if we have problems.” “They’re not protesting about F1,” insisted Ecclestone. “If we didn’t go, whatever problems there are … would they stop Monday morning? The answer’s no.”
GP should be scrapped. An editorial in The Times (£) called for the race to be scrapped. The newspaper argued that Ecclestone and Jean Todt, head of the FIA, “have wilfully detached themselves from the life-or-death realities that will mold both the image of their sport and the fate of Bahrain. They are by no means the only ones either. The kingdom’s Royal Family desperately wants the race to proceed as a signal to the wider world that its tentative moves towards inclusion have produced a durable political settlement which they certainly have not.” The Times slammed the organisers’ lack of “moral courage” and said that “several Grand Prix nations have dubious human rights records, but nowhere are sport and the regime so closely associated as in Bahrain. This is why sport and politics cannot be separated next weekend. It is also why, once Bahrain’s reforms have gained traction and solid Shia support, Formula One should return with triumphant fanfare.”
In a statement, Amnesty International said a “blind eye” should not be turned to the “ongoing human rights crisis in the country.” “Holding the Grand Prix in Bahrain in 2012 risks being interpreted by the government of Bahrain as symbolizing a return to business as usual,” it added.
Decision to race all about money. Patrick Collins of The Daily Mail said that the organisers had disregarded questions of “ethics, decency and principle” in the pursuit of “shedloads of easy money … game, set and match to filthy lucre.” “With its cavalier attitude towards democratic standards and human rights, along with allegations of torture of prisoners, its callous ill-treatment of a hunger striker and its flagrant disregard for conventional, civilised values, Bahrain seemed a place best avoided,” argued Collins, who described F1 as a “noxious, raucous, polluting affront to the environment, masquerading as a sport.”
Steady on, it’s not F1′s job to take a political lead, argued ITV Sport Editor Steve Scott, who said that “of course the race is potentially a target for protest, even terrorism but Formula 1 can not be blamed for honouring its contract. More than that, Formula 1 cannot be blamed for side stepping a moral judgment and filling a vacuum left by Western governments. That is not their job, for the sport’s governing body safety, and only safety, can be their concern.” Scott said that “sport should of course have a conscience at all times but it can not take a political lead unless it’s about something as clear cut as apartheid South Africa.”
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