A Sense of Proportion
Should Formula One be in Bahrain? Many fans are going as far as boycotting the event (including those with a Sky subscription). Cynically, the same media that is now queuing up to berate Formula One has been conspicuously quiet on the subject of Bahrain for the eleven months in between this year’s race and last year’s aborted event. Inevitably, the ensuing media frenzy meant that politicians then jumped on the bandwagon – with British politicians suggesting that Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button should not be in Bahrain (poor Paul di Resta, seems everyone is ignoring Force India.) However, what damage is Formula One doing to Bahrain in real terms?
Some argue that Formula One’s presence is seen as supporting the incumbent rulers. However, Formula One’s presence certainly hasn’t improved the government’s image by any stretch of the imagination. Instead the opposition has been able to voice their grievances to a global media that was barely listening before.
That’s led to growing frustration in the paddock about how Formula One has been represented. This is one occasion that Bernie Ecclestone has let such annoyances get the better of him with several misjudged comments. However, as Ross Brawn said “I find it very frustrating that politicians in the UK were saying that we should withdraw once we got here. Why didn’t they say anything beforehand?” It’s true, but more disappointing is that in reality, politicians should actually be looking in their own backyard.
Britain continues to arm Bahrain. According to The Guardian, the British government approved the sale of military equipment valued at more than £1m in the months following the violent crackdown on demonstrators a year ago. They included licences for gun silencers, weapons sights, rifles, artillery and components for detecting and jamming improvised explosive devices.
The business secretary, Vince Cable admitted that “We do trade with governments that are not democratic and have bad human rights records … We do business with repressive governments and there’s no denying that.” Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that human rights concerns needed to be balanced against “the United Kingdom’s security concerns when making these judgements”. So there we go, it’s in our interests to arm the Bahraini government but having a motor race is apparently wrong.
Not that it’s just Britain of course. The USA, France and Canada have all been recently highlighted as supplying arms to Bahrain as demonstrated by images of the Bahraini military using armed Humvees to suppress civilian protesters. And all this despite them readily condemning Russia for doing likewise in Syria. There have been reports that rather than the US delaying its $53 million arms sale to Bahrain, the US government has been exploiting loopholes to push the sale through.
The reality is that NATO governments are on good terms with Bahrain because it’s not Iran and with a US airbase on the island, Bahrain is of strategic importance to Washington.
Holding a Grand Prix or not won’t change that stance.