Bahrain’s Political Football
Well I suppose nobody can say Bahrain was boring this year. The drivers don’t seem to want to go. Some of the teams don’t seem to want to go either. Even Max Mosley thinks it is a terrible idea. Only Bernie Ecclestone appeared to be keen, that is until the FIA decided to reschedule the Bahrain Grand Prix to the end of October – cue some degree of Ecclestone backtracking…
That said, Ecclestone has a good point when he says “Better that we move Bahrain to the end of the season and, if things are safe and well, then that is fine, we can go. If they are not, then we don’t go and there are no problems.” Given that the FIA continue to monitor the situation and may yet make a u-turn, why shuffle the calendar around and cause the maximum upheaval? Seems that the 2011 calendar is being decided by the end of season FIA Gala Awards that are being hosted by India rather than the best interests of Formula One.
“This decision reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain, which is evident from the strong support the race receives from the Government and all major parties in Bahrain, including the largest opposition group, all of whom endorse the Formula One Grand Prix and motor sport in the country,” said the FIA statement. On the face of it, the apparent support of all sides should be a good thing, although campaign group Avaaz have suggested that the human rights groups consulted by the FIA have close links to the government. However, it is not beyond reason that the presence of such a high profile event would suit both sides anyway. Formula One may insist is is above politics but that won’t stop others using it as a political football, be it the leadership’s message that “everything is all right in Bahrain” or an opportunity for the opposition to stage protests before the World. As Mohamed Al- Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said: “on the one hand, Formula One isn’t respecting human rights, but on the other, it’s a good chance for the people to express how they feel on television worldwide.”
Curiously, the World Motor Sport Council also stated “…that reinstating the Grand Prix is a means of helping to unite people as the country looks to move forward.” This is ironically meaningful as while it may well be the message that the Bahraini government would like to send out, it has been far from its objective, whether now or for the previous decades. The government has long opposed the foundation of political parties, societies or unions that cut across regional, ethnic, or religious groupings – relying on divisions to maintain control. During the March demonstrations, there was a particularly tough response to a “No Sunni, No Shi’i -Just Bahraini” campaign. Meanwhile, Sunnis who played a prominent role in the protests were swiftly arrested and subjected to particularly vehement and public ostracism. More over, many of them remain imprisoned at a time when the FIA is seemingly under the impression that Bahrain is moving forward.
Who knows, perhaps the FIA naively has good intentions but the rest of the World is thinking that for Formula One, money and politics trumps humanitarian concerns. It’s time for Formula One to stand up and tell the the FIA it is wrong.
Photo: Red Bull Racing/Vladimir Rys/Getty Images