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Uncomfortable reaction to F1 decision to press on with Bahrain GP
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Darren Heath
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Apr 2012   |  3:10 am GMT  |  109 comments

Yesterday’s robust announcement from the F1 authorities and teams that the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead appears to have galvanised opposition and provoked a reaction on the streets of the Gulf state.

A planned funeral march for Ahmed Ismail, a protestor who was shot by security forces last week, turned violent while there were strong words of condemnation from human rights groups and activists in the country.

A report by AP for the American ABC network featured the following passage,

‘ “No F1, no F1. … They killed my son in cold blood,” sobbed Ismail’s mother, Makyia Ahmed, who said her son had been a volunteer at previous F1 races.’

This direct connection with F1 and politics – between F1 and life and death is the thing that is most concerning about this situation. Risk assessments indicate that F1 personnel are unlikely to face any personal security risks, but it is the reputational damage for the sport and its participants which is at risk.

This afternoon a protest is planned outside the British embassy in Bahrain and all eyes will be on how that evolves. This will give an indication of what the F1 circus can expect when it sets foot in the country next week.

It is fanciful to believe that there will be no protests against the race; the crucial question is of scale and seriousness. Will opposition amount to nothing more than a few kids throwing molotov cocktails at police and setting fire to tyres in the road? Or is there a danger of things escalating?

“There’s nothing happening (in Bahrain),” Ecclestone said in Shanghai on Friday. “I know people that live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful.”

I have two independent sources in the country, who largely agree that the stories of opposition have been greatly exaggerated. Getting an accurate read on the scale of the opposition is very difficult. But it also means that F1 doesn’t really know what it will face next week. It could be minimal, or it could shock them out of complacency. No-one really knows.

This uncertainty weighs on many people working in F1.

I spoke to Ecclestone yesterday as well as to several team principals. The noon meeting at which Ecclestone briefed them on Bahrain also covered other subjects and according to Christian Horner, Bahrain was only a ‘brief’ item on the agenda.

The teams did not oppose the decision to race next week, according to Horner and they have accepted the FIA’s assessment of the situation. Interestingly this extends to not having any contingency plans for getting staff out of the country should protests escalate when the teams are on the ground in Bahrain next week. This is odd because F1 teams tend to plan ‘worst case scenarios’ in most situations.

“We haven’t developed that much to be honest,” said Lotus F1 boss Eric Boullier. “We believe it will be a normal weekend. We just need to make sure that everyone is safe and happy.

“We are happy to go and race in Bahrain. We just make sure that the safety is respected for all our people, no special issue.”

The list of media organisations choosing not to attend the race is small, but growing. Sky Germany joined Finnish and Japanese TV in planning to call the race from their home base and several journalists plan to do likewise.

They say a week is a long time in politics; this situation is highly political and clearly it’s going to be a very long week indeed.

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109 Comments
  1. Karen says:

    I would hazard a guess that anyone that Bernie Ecclestone knows living in Bahrain lives a privileged life and would experience none of the unrest or oppression that many citizens experience. Statements that Ecclestone makes such as “There is nothing happening in Bahrain – it’s all very quiet and peaceful,” speaks to the arrogance that this man seems to have. I am very disappointed in the decision to hold the race in Bahrain and even though it will mean nothing to anybody but me, I plan on not watching the race as a form of individual protest- something that I have the right to do in Canada but wouldn’t if I lived in Bahrain.

    One can say that sports and politics shouldn’t mix but if influential people such as international race drivers and teams don’t take a stand and speak out against injustices in this world, then who will?

    I am so disillusioned right now, I’m torn about even watching the race this weekend.

    I guess decisions always come down to the almighty dollar and we shouldn’t be surprised by Ecclestone’s decision but I guess I held out the naive hope that the F1A would make the right decision and cancel the race. Silly me.

    1. Kevin Green says:

      He know’s exactly fine what’s going on over there! did you see the Sky tv interview on the move?? said quite a lot inc his rudeness! and that’s to the company that’s just started giving him huge amounts of cash for tv rights!!

      F1 took a MASSIVE knock yesterday regardless of what happens now and yes i believe it certainly will be cancelled. The added deaths have started already

      1. David Young says:

        Blood money.

    2. Erik says:

      Karen, that is so well-put, I totally agree with you…

      I sat in front of the TV this afternoon and watched the China qualifying and while doing so I wondered to myself on a number of occasions durring the session – what am I doing? Why am I even watching this?..

      This is the very same group of people that has completely ignored the fact (and are even chummy with) the Bahraini government who tramples on it’s own citizens. All because the money bags are large enough to drown out the moral questions that it raises.

      I started thinking why is China any different?..

      I have followed F1 for some 25 years (and I’m only 32 so most of my life) but I’m really torn up about this…

      I am lucky enough to live in a first-world country where my voice counts and is not met with bullets when I raise it, but my birthplace is in a country that for a very long time was an oppressive communist regime. I started watching F1 in that country, under that regime, and while doing so often hoped that one day I would be part of the free world, the very same place that allows such a magnificent spectacle that is F1 to be. But now this…

      May you find peace one day Makyia Ahmed, and shame on you Bernie. Nothing happening indeed..

      [mod]
      Won’t-be-watching.

      P.S. anyone who believes that holding the F1 race in Bahrain is not a political move by that elitist government is kidding themselves. This is a clear message to the lower-class population there that they do not call the shots and that the elite can do what they like.

      Human rights protests or no.
      Disgusting.

      1. Wu says:

        Do you believe in the death penalty? Do you believe in cracking down harshly on rioters and protesters? Do you believe torture is right? Do you believe it is right to detain people without it ever reaching the courts?

        I just mentioned the US and the UK. Perhaps we should absolve ourselves from having races too.

        Sorry if this sounds confrontational, it is not meant to be, but I put it to you sir that every country in the world does something others might not agree with. This is why sport should always seperate from politics, just like politics should be seperate of relligion.

        Cancelling the race doesn’t just mean an economic loss for F1 and Bahraini people; the people whose shops would be full of customers, hotels, coffee shops, taxis, buses, coaches, I could go on… It also means giving in to politics. Right or wrong, when you boil it down to a simple statement, when a part of the population wants more power than it has it IS politics.

        I should say this before any chastasing rebukes; I fully support freedom of speech, equality for all, human rights, etc etc, and we as a nation with power should encourage these reforms all over the world. But please leave sport out of this. F1 is about the purity of who’s the fastest (some of the time anyway)

      2. Erik says:

        One good thing about forums in the free world is that we can all put our thoughts forward with confidence and hold an open (and sometimes heated) dialogue.

        Try that in Bahrain. Or China for that matter…

      3. mvi says:

        And sport should not then go in to interfere with those who are asking for “freedom of speech, equality for all, human rights, etc.” As it is in this case, where F1 is being used to deny that people are asking for just those things. That is very political.

      4. Jonathan says:

        With this attitude we would never have boycotted the apartheid regime in South Africa.

        There is always a delicate balancing act with sport and politics: sport can bring people together, foster mutual understanding, heal wounds and prevent conflicts; but sport can also be exploited by brutally repressive regimes as a means of obtaining a veneer of respectability and legitimacy.

        In the case of China, the trade-off is very difficult. We need to condemn China’s human rights record — but we also need to be able to work with it, because, for better or worse, it is a major nuclear power, and it will change at its own pace or not at all.

        In the case of Bahrain, it seems like a boycott would be entirely appropriate, for all the reasons it was appropriate in the case of South Africa. The regime needs and craves the positive coverage and veneer of respectability that F1 brings. But it does not deserve our respect. F1 should lead the way in ostracizing Bahrain until it stops killing protesters.

      5. Phillip H says:

        “F1 is about the purity of who’s the fastest”

        No, it’s not.

        Have a look at any other racing series. Anything else – from lawn mowers to touring cars to truck racing – THEY display the purity of racing.

        F1 is about money, politics, power-struggles and infighting. It has an arbitrary system of stewardship which can affect any race or championship.

        F1 has demonstrated little loyalty to it’s viewers or to the fans who shell out hundreds if not, thousands of pounds to see its spectacle.

        F1 will never take the moral high road where there is money to be earned. In Bahrain, there is money to be earned.

      6. Kevin Green says:

        Perfectly put together.

      7. David Young says:

        Bravo!

      8. Fabrice says:

        [mod] who are we (mainly folks living in the west) to go around the world and tell people how to live their lives or system of governance they should have? You said you’re lucky enough to live in the first world, which world is it?

        Your criticism of china is at best naive, Chinese officials are on records saying democracy is a western concept and it won’t work in china, you know what? I’m starting to agree with them, one just has to take a look at all the countries where the west is trying to export their democrazy, Irak, Libya, Syria to name but few. You said you’re lucky enough to live in the first world, which world is it? I am sure their are few people in Greece right now who wish they were born in China.

        Imagine the outcry if a group of people decided to hold a protest and demanded the race at Silverstone be cancelled because they wanted real democracy. Please don’t even tell me the UK is a democracy because it is not, it is a constitutional monarchy, the voting system people take part in is farce, it is merely the transfer of power from the masses to the elite so to give folks like you the impression they have a say in the running of their country, but in reality they don’t.

        There’s a genocide going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996 that has caused 5.4 million deaths and counting, but that doesn’t stop Canadian, American and European mining companies doing good business there.

        People in Bahrain have the right to protest and I have the right to watch the race because I paid for it. The protesters have no right to hold formula one to ransom.

      9. rad_g says:

        Well said. In those situations I always say: imagine how American or British governemnts would react if people went out to streets with molotov cocktails or machine guns. It would be a similar massacre as anywhere else in so called 3rd world.

        Another thing which makes me really unhappy. Mass media reporting how bad it is in Bahrain and people who went there reporting exactly the opposite! The media have done this with Iraq and Lybia. None of those countries was posing any threat and yet the media made us believe they were.

        Leave Bahrain to Bahrainis. Let them solve their own problems.

        I think olympics in London should be cancelled because of that man who died in protests in London last year.

    3. john doe says:

      We need to get out the truth to the racers about what is really going on.

      I don’t think they have a clue unless they watch networks like
      RT and PressTV.

      A man died today at a funeral today held in Bahrain for just attending.

      F1 is losing my respect.

      What would Senna do?

      1. Doug says:

        If Senna was in contention for a World championship…he’d race!
        Politics & F1, Politics in F1…interesting, thought provoking…but F1 is a sport, let’s remember that fact!

      2. mayhemfunkster says:

        What would Senna do?! Are you serious? Senna was single-minded, fearsomely competitive and 100% comitted to winning.

        If he thought going to Bahrain would win him a championship, or allow him to get the edge on Prost, he would have gone alone wearing a flak jacket with a pitch fork!!

        Despite what popular documentaries try to portray, Alain Prost would be a far better bet for a moral stance on the race.

    4. Dan Orsino says:

      sorry to disturb the cosy consensus here.
      I am an absolute pacifist and I don’t think using violence as a protest is justifiable, even for human rights, so called.

      to me, who does not know a lot about Bahrain and who’s who there, F1 can’t take sides.
      There just seem too many ‘unpredictables’ for a confident decision to go, even if safety is guaranteed.
      James, as a top journalist yourself, you seem surprisingly unquestioning of this sobbing mother’s story……

      1. Karen says:

        Not trying to be insulting, but I’d have to agree with you in that you don’t know a thing about Bahrain if you think it’s the citizens trying to achieve freedom and democracy who are the source of the violence.

      2. Dan Orsino says:

        forgive me Karen, but I’m a wee bit sceptical. But I wish your friends well in their quest for Freedom, Democracy etc.

        I’m only being honest, and I know life, history and other factors are not simple propositions.
        I don’t have your certainty about who’s right in this.

  2. JSHT says:

    I guess it is very difficult to gauge how things truly are from a distance – even with “independent sources”. On top of that, you have Human Rights groups (who, whether we agree or not, have their own agenda) also giving a different picture. Ultimately, I for one would not be surprised if everything goes smoothly but at the same would not be surprised if the F1 fraternity abandon the event altogether.

    1. DMyers says:

      I’m not questioning James’s integrity, but I’m sure there are as many independent sources who will give the opposite impression. Amnesty (an organisation who specialise in such things) say that there are just as many human rights abuses going on as there were twelve months ago.

      If it does go ahead (and I will be surprised if it does), I shall not be watching any coverage or reading anything about it. I hope not to hear of anything bad happening to any team personnel or fans who go to watch the race and get caught up in protests, but if I do it will be on the news. I will be boycotting all F1-related sites and TV coverage if F1 goes to Bahrain.

      1. James Allen says:

        ..except this one, I hope!

  3. Stone the crows says:

    I won’t be attending, so my opinion is merely that. It seems to me that the race in Bahrain is I’ve travelled the middle east and I believe that the teams, journalists and spectators will be safe. I don’t think they will be the ‘targets’ per se, but the race will be a catalyst for violence, and so it will be the locals making their case against the powers that be who will suffer. I’m with Damon Hill on this one.

    1. James Allen says:

      Damon has changed his mind again, now he’s in favour

      1. alexbookoo says:

        Oh for God’s sake! I’ve been quoting his second position as wise. But if he expresses all positions I guess he’ll be able to say he was right at one point in time.

      2. wexes says:

        The man is ready for politics!!

      3. john doe says:

        Someone got his number that’s why.

        Shame

      4. Moxlox says:

        I did wonder if Damon had been asked to change his public opinion. I was surprised he changed his mind, as he is a wise chap.

        At the time I suspected Damon’s Bahrain rethink comments would not have gone down well, and he would have had plenty of pone calls.

        My mind is that this race should not go ahead. Repuationally for F1 this s an extremely unwise move. Morally run a sporting event against the background of civil unrest is abhrent

      5. Moxlox says:

        * Morally running a sporting event against the background of civil unrest is abhorrent.

  4. Honestly, the only reason this race is going ahead is because of money.

    And that I think is quite sad.

    1. Sebee says:

      The only reason any race takes place is because it paid the hosting fee. Why do you think Spa will soon be on every second year? That’s right – no money.

      1. Erik says:

        I have 2 arguments against that:

        1. I’m sure that places like Monza and Silverstone have more to do with being on the calendar than just paying the hosting fees. In fact I’m sure their fees are a lot lower than say Korea’s due to their historical significance.

        2. I would hope that Iran would still struggle to get a slot on the calendar, even if it paid 5 times as much as any other venue – so no it’s not just about hosting fees.

        Although after this week I’m starting to worry about point no.2

        You would want to think that at some point F1 will take a long hard look at itself. Otherwise more and more fans will start to realise we’re all just watching the plaything of the world’s elite, and not a sport at all.

      2. Sebee says:

        Iran may have 5x the hosting fee, but it doesn’t have the industry or the fan base. They are also not interested in building a billion dollar track or paying annual fees to FOM.

        Which brings me to the point that there are regimes that pay forthr sport you like and the teams you cheer for – and Bahrain pays quite a chunk. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Bahrain quits F1, they may quit their Mclaren support and who will pay the crazy salary for Lewis or Button?

      3. mario says:

        “Otherwise more and more fans will start to realise we’re all just watching the plaything of the world’s elite, and not a sport at all.”

        its always been a plaything for the elite, but back in the day it was the teams that were the elite in question making money from what they learnt from the track; nowadays its Bernie E and the sponsors that run the show. the actual ‘sport’ is a bi-product of the spectacle

    2. Erik says:

      Sad and disgusting, considering the context.

  5. tim says:

    I’ve postponed buying my ticket to Montreal to see how the next few days play out. I am not impressed with Bernie’s indifference whatsoever. Billionaire Brits who live in first-world, democratic bubbles should not dismiss grassroots struggles for freedom that involve sacrificing life, as today’s funeral would seem to point to. Could someone tell Bernie to pay for some lessons on reality, history, and politics in the states he’s pushed his circus into? Perhaps the lessons could be printed on $100 bills so he’ll read them. I joke but those comments are borderline awful.

  6. goferet says:

    My sympathies go out to Ahmed Ismail’s mother for in life there’s nothing worse than for a parent to loose their child.

    However, there’re some children that go out of their way to look for trouble and hence you have situations like this.

    Now I would urge everybody to take a leaf out of Bernie’s book and just relax, everybody should have faith in Bahrain authorities and in the successful occurrence of the Bahrain Grand Prix and more importantly stop stocking the flames for that’s exactly what the opposition would like to see (for their own selfish needs of course i.e. to get into power).

    Am sure everything will go just fine and it’s the liberal media that will end up having egg on their face after the dirty tactics they have been pulling with the sole purpose of achieving high ratings at all costs including scaremongering.

    As for the human rights organizations, I never take them serious for it’s a known fact these organizations are hypocrites for they always pick and choose who they will harass and 99% of the time, they go for the small countries with no financial or political clout on the world stage.

    Okay, I urge everybody to forget Bahrain for a little bit and enjoy the telenovela that’s to play out in China this weekend.

    1. alexbookoo says:

      Do you have evidence that Ahmed Ismail “went out of his way to look for trouble”? If not you have no business making such a comment.

      1. Erik says:

        +1

        Also, the attrocities in Bahrain have a lot more to them than just scare-mongering. That’s a very ignorant attitude and video footage does not lie.

        I’m sure you’d have a different view if the ordinary people this was effecting was your own family.

      2. alexbookoo says:

        +1

    2. mvi says:

      You, goferet, said:

      “As for the human rights organizations, I never take them serious for it’s a known fact these organizations are hypocrites for they always pick and choose who they will harass and 99% of the time, they go for the small countries with no financial or political clout on the world stage.”

      Can you back up any of part of this “known fact”?

  7. David says:

    We’re talking about a country without democracy and many of the freedoms and human rights people in the west naturally assume. Including all those involved in Formula 1.

    The people of the country protested against this autocratic rule last year and were brutally crushed. What’s changed since then? Nothing. If the Bahrain race is ‘safe’ as Ecclestone, Boullier and others so blithely claim, it will only be because of this violent suppression of protests in the past. And perhaps again next week. Safe only (perhaps) for the hyper wealthy visitors from the global elite, not the people involved in the protests.

    That basically makes Formula 1 an accessory to the suppression of a dictatorship. Isn’t this even remotely shameful for those involved in the sport? I really wonder. Do they live in such a privileged bubble of wealth and global opportunity that they have no comprehension of what fighting for basic human rights means?

  8. cito says:

    Westerners really need to stop to change other cultures. Its a Shiite majority being ruled by the Sunni government thing. Something we don’t understand and which is common in middle east (or vice versa, I don’t know). It’s all disguised as a human rights thing. It would be silly to think that all those last years revolutions were occurring naturally. It is strange enough when one revolution happens, but 7 or 8 is no coincidence. Its rather different western agit-props working with different groups, educating them, enabling weapons, know how, etc that enables these dissident groups to gain momentum. As for general public, this Bahrain thing wouldn’t exist if westerners weren’t of the mind that they must bring democracy and human rights everywhere. That kind of thinking is really very colonial. I’m all for F1 in Bahrain because it is not ours to judge their Kingdom. We just drive and let them handle their own problems.

    1. alexbookoo says:

      No, F1 is not neutral, it has taken a stand with Bahrain’s rulers.

      Revolutions usually happen in waves, there’s nothing unusual about that and it’s not a Western funded conspiracy, unless you believe Asad, Mubarak, and Gadaffi. 1848, 1917-19, 1989, 2011 – waves of revolution across multiple countries. It’s because of common historical forces. Westerners have done nothing to bring Bahrainis democracy and human rights. The only intervention has been by the Saudis (with tacit American support) to crush it. It’s a revolution struggling against the odds. There’s no point in you pretending it “wouldn’t exist”.

      1. cito says:

        Bringing democracy is an excuse to occupy a country. (Iraq, Afghanistan – all former friends)And revolutions don’t just happen, they are organized by skillful people with resources. Is it so unfathomable to think that perhaps in Libya there were things happening behind the scenes, or are we to believe that somehow a small group of rebels in a oppressive dictatorship country with strong security were able to acquire weapons, strategists, etc to lead a s successful war. Cmon’. And yes, F1 has taken a stand with the legal government of that country because otherwise it would’ve been supporting revolutionists. It is also the government with which it has made a contract to have a race there. All revolutions are not good by default. I’m watching China GP and I don’t care at the moment about the political aspects of China, which is BTW, way more oppressive government that the Bahrain’s. But China is OK because there are no revolutions there at the moment just like there weren’t years ago in Bahrain when Bahrain was OK. The worst thing that can happen to any of these countries is when someone decides to bring democracy there, because democracy comes with guns. When you are trying to stay neutral it must be business as usual. Also, someone is still buying their oil, aren’t they?

      2. alexbookoo says:

        Cito, I’m against colonialism and you’re right that democracy is used as an excuse by Western powers to invade and occupy countries. I’m against the Iraq War and the Afghan War.

        But you have to be able to differentiate between wars and revolutions or else you get terribly confused. The Arab uprisings are a wave of domestic revolutions, not interventions. They actually run counter to Western interests in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, which all had Western-backed dictators before.

        The exception is Libya (where there’s oil), but it wasn’t exactly a “behind the scenes” conspiracy – it was a NATO intervention! You could spot the help the rebels got pretty clearly in the skies. But even Libya started as a genuine revolution, and became something else.

        And you say we’re only focusing on Bahrain because things are happening there right now – but that’s precisely the point. That’s exactly why it’s an issue.

      3. Andy L says:

        The Nazis were the legal government of Germany.

      4. cito says:

        I disagree that Arab uprisings go against Western interest. Things change all the time. One day you are good the other you are evil. But according to your logic China GP definitively must go off of the calender. I’m just saying that nobody cares about human rights in dictatorship counties until there is a group that opposes dictatorship. So its not about human rights per se, its about you undeveloped people screwing up my lunch with bad footage from the TV that I have to watch and make me feel sad. Stop the killings and let me enjoy. If there is a security issue in Bahrain, then fine, F1 shouldn’t go, but F1 does not represent any values or religion or political options or worldview. No, F1 is a sport with several goals, to brig good racing and make money. It is hypocritical to badge a certain worldview to F1 just because the westerners are appalled by bad footage from TV. F1 doesn’t stand for democracy and it doesn’t stand for human rights. It seems like you are trying to put morals into corporate business- it doesn’t exist. Sponsors want coverage, and I tell you they will get huge coverage in Bahrain. About Nazi Germany – again, no one cared about the Jews, until the war started, and even then nobody really cared about the Jews. Today nobody cares about, I don’t know, 30 millions Ukrainians that Russian communist killed. Today it seems only Jews suffered because they had the opportunity to show the horrors they’ve been trough. It’s never about life and “human rights”. Perhaps Muslims have different perception of what human rights are. Its all a historical thing. Protestants used the Bible to determine human rights, Muslims use Kuran, and Hitler and Stalin used… its not the place for this.

    2. mvi says:

      Horrors1 Westerners bringing in education and human rights! No problem for you that they bring in F1, though …

  9. Mark Miller says:

    Its a bit late for feeling uncomfortable about this race isn’t it? The f1 community have known the political dispute between Shia and Sunni since before last year’s race. Yet they were happy to go along with postponing that race and then the scheduling of this race. Now at the 11 th hour we get stories like this about teams and journalists and drivers getting squeamish. Why so late? Could t be so a token gesture can be made by some without losing the race?

    As a fan my message to the squeamish drivers, team principals and journos is tell Bernie you don’t want to race before he organizes the calendar!!!

    Personally I am totally against politics mixing with sport. F1 has gone to plenty of countries with oppressive regimes in the past and in the present. China has one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Abu dhabi is a hereditary monarchy which is not democratic. For years f1 raced in Hungary whist it was behind the iron curtain. Russia is now on the agenda and it is virtually a dictatorship. Apartheid south Africa had races.

    It is not up to f1 to impose the political views of some teams or journos on the countries that f1 visits.

    Provided the conditions are safe they should go.

    1. Aussie Dave says:

      Agreed. And let’s not ignore the fact that a race has been held each year in the United Kingdom despite the UK Government using it’s armed forces to suppress a civilian population in Northern Ireland opposed to it’s rule.

      Where does one draw the line? There’s a lot of people being very selective in expecting F1 and the FIA to be making a stand over Bahrain and ignoring many other countries and their GPs.

      1. Phillip H says:

        “And let’s not ignore the fact that a race has been held each year in the United Kingdom despite the UK Government using it’s armed forces to suppress a civilian population in Northern Ireland opposed to it’s rule.”

        Aussie Dave – I think you’ll find that the UK govt. did not suppress a civilian population in NI. The UK forces were asked to help by the Premier of NI, James Chichester-Clark in 1969, since there was no stopping of the sectarian violence that had exploded. Also, I think you will find that most of NI want to remain British, it is the southern republic of Ireland that want a united Ireland.

        By your reasoning, we should boycott the Australian GP as well, for it’s appalling record on human rights against Aborigines.

        Please get your rhetoric right before spouting so-called facts.

    2. RogerRoger says:

      I think we all need to remember there is poverty and wealth, power and control in every country in the world. A perceived imbalance always causes protests – there are hardly any countries I can think of who haven’t at some time has serious violent protests against their rulers. People protest and sadly die for their beliefs in a number of the countries visited by the F1 circus every year and yet this seems to be conveniently ignored by the media

      I agree with Marks comments – providing a safe environment for the racing is the only thing that is important. The politics of the host country are not really relevant as the FIA & F1 have no political affiliation.

  10. David says:

    Is it still the plan for 5 Live to go to Bahrain?

  11. Dominic J says:

    It’s very rare that I miss a race, but I’m afraid I can’t bring myself to watch the Bahrain GP this year.

    That the stories of opposition are exaggerated is not a sufficient argument to race. The specific examples of mistreatment of prisoners whose only offence is to protest are far more troubling.

    Personally I don’t expect an “attack” on the event, although a repeat of Hockenheim 2000 or Silverstone 2003 might be attempted. I’m sure security at the race track will be unimaginably tight.

    1. James Clayton says:

      “The specific examples of mistreatment of prisoners whose only offence is to protest are far more troubling.”

      So you’ll be missing tomorrows Grand Prix too?

      1. Dominic J says:

        Yes, and a shame too as it looks set to be exciting.

        I will also say that missing tomorrow’s race is even more futile a gesture as it is not important to China’s leadership, whereas the Bahrain royal family have been the driving force behind next weekend’s race.

      2. rad_g says:

        How about missing a Korean GP? South Korean govt is openly admitting they don’t want liberated North because of 20 or so million poor, hungry, unemployeed people who would expect everything from South? How about genocide in Chechnya? Russia is no saint. America? Texas? Did you ever hear about legal paramilitary groups in Texas hunting down and shooting Mexican refugees? What about American and British forces occupying Iraq amd Afghanistan?

      3. Dominic J says:

        Rad, you have a point, but none of the opposition groups to those things you list oppose F1 taking place specifically. Nor, in any of those cases is it of any particular personal importance to the political leadership.

        Put it this way – had today’s viewing figures been 25% down on what is normal, then Bahrain’s leadership would’ve known about it. The same cannot be said for any other example you’ve given, save perhaps the UK (but really, I doubt the UK ranks in the top 100 of worst behaved countries in the world).

  12. Nick Hipkin says:

    James,

    Do you forsee any major sponsors like for example vodafone asking for their logo’s to be removed from the Mclaren cars for the race? And if so would this lead to others following?

    I cannot believe major international companies want their names associated with the bad press this will receive on tv all around the world next weekend surely.

    1. James Allen says:

      Good question. I’ll find out

      1. Nick Hipkin says:

        Thanks James, would be interesting to know and if it did happen the knock on effects it would have for the Bahrain GP in the future

    2. alexbookoo says:

      Vodafone are already hated in Egypt and much of the Arab world for cutting off mobile networks in Egypt at the behest of Mubarak during the Egyptian Revolution. So they don’t have much to lose, but for other companies it’s a good question.

  13. alexbookoo says:

    Excellent blog. This is exactly right:

    “This direct connection with F1 and politics – between F1 and life and death is the thing that is most concerning about this situation. Risk assessments indicate that F1 personnel are unlikely to face any personal security risks, but it is the reputational damage for the sport and its participants which is at risk.”

    Much of the debate has been framed around the “will F1 personnel be safe” question. This isn’t the main question, except for those who are going to be there personally. The main question for F1 is what it’s about to be associated with.

    It’s plain wrong to pretend as Bernie does that F1 has nothing to do with a country’s politics. When races are funded by government subsidies, with Bahrain paying the most, this is simply dishonest. And it’s historically inaccurate – F1 boycotted South Africa from 1985 to 1991 because of apartheid.

    There are other historical lessons. On Ecclestone’s current logic, transplanted to another time he’d have had no problem holding races in Nazi Germany, because he says politics doesn’t come in to it. The 1936 Olympics were held under Hitler, and a lot of the debates we’ve been having on this forum were had back then. In retrospect, those Olympics were obviously a mistake. They were a huge propaganda victory for Hitler. Goebbels invented the Olypic torch relay to show Aryan supremacy to the world. Politics and sport will never be separate.

    I’m sure the Bahrainis will mount an extreme security operation, very possibly with lethal results. I’m also sure that the protesters will see the F1 weekend as their biggest opportunity since the brutal clearing of Pearl Roundabout last year. They’ve already sacrificed so much, so many lives. There’s no reason to think they’ll stop now.

    1. James Allen says:

      You highlight that para. I can tell you that is how many people working in F1 feel

      1. alexbookoo says:

        I’m glad about that. I said this post is excellent in part because it is written by someone who has to go and work there. It would be understandable for you to focus solely on the personal safety aspect, but this site’s coverage has been broad and good.

  14. Peter says:

    Truth be told; I have no idea about the middle east or how it works. I can only view this from a purely selfish perspective.

    I’ve put up with a lot from Formula 1 over the years, and still came back for more. I just can’t get enough!

    However.

    The phoney overtaking aids. The technical bickering and loop hole exploitation. The testing and development bans. The annual regulation tweaks. The creeping abandonment of the European demographic. The Sky TV deal. The joke-shop tires. Tilke-dromes. The absurd prices of the iPhone apps. The PR-schooled drivers. The “shoot-out” qualifying format, with those built in advertisement slots. The new risk averse, cost/benefit conscious red flag attitude. Mandatory pit stops and compound changes. No refuelling (I thought it added a few juicy question marks when second guessing strategy.)

    And now this whole Bahrain affair and the shameful way all involved are sticking their heads in the (desert) sand and daring to suggest a motor race will bring about harmony within the region.

  15. Mitchel says:

    When are they going to announce the Syrian GP? Can’t wait……….

    1. James Allen says:

      Just after the Iranian GP I’m told…

      1. Matt C says:

        shortly before the north korean GP and after the Republic Of Wadiya GP :)

      2. Aaron James says:

        Burma is upset at it’s exclusion.

      3. They need to fit in the Kazahkstan and Belarus Grands Prix as well…

      4. alexbookoo says:

        No I believe Syria has got the jump on Iran. Apparently they’ve already cleared a large area for the track in Homs. It’s rumoured that Tilke can’t wait to get in there and design the circuit in the shape of a giant tank, complete with a three and a half mile straight-hairpin-straight section making up the cannon.

        Fears that ticket sales will be low due to recent depopulation in the area have been dismissed by President Asad as a Western-Al Qaeda-Israeli-Iranian conspiracy. Asad’s wife is very much looking forward to the weekend and to meeting Bernie, and has ordered a £10,000 dress online especially.

      5. Wu says:

        Shelling during a race would definitly spice up a Tilke racetrack for sure.

      6. “And while we were on the commercial break, another car was hit by artillery fire at Turn 11. Let’s look at the replay to see if we can see where the debris landed. Remember under the special FIA regulations in place for this race, passing another car with flying debris counts…”

    2. CC says:

      Spot on. I can’t imagine the powers that be going to same length to keep a Spa, a Silverstone, or the Ring on the calendar as they are for Bahrain.

  16. Il Leone says:

    My concern is that the following week could see a day-by-day increase in public protest, building up to a mass demonstration on Sunday, so that you could effectively have a capital city in open riot next weekend, with a ‘normal’ Grand Prix taking place behind armed guards just a few kilometres away.

    And, leaving aside the political situation, for F1 to be associated with scenes of violent protest would be devastating for the sport. Think of the damage caused by cricket and rugby tours going to South Africa under apartheid.

    And James, regarding your comment ‘Interestingly this extends to not having any contingency plans for getting staff out of the country should protests escalate when the teams are on the ground in Bahrain next week’

    It seems to me they should definitely be thinking something up, otherwise I have an image of rows and rows of F1 team trucks leaving the circuit under armed guard, maybe even on Saturday night, while protestors throw rocks and goodness knows what else at them.

    I think Bahrain should be cancelled. And Bernie should be more careful with whom he does deals (and I know about China, Russia, Brazil etc before anyone comments on it)

  17. gonzeche says:

    A mother sobbing “No F1, no F1. … They killed my son in cold blood”, Bernie saying “There’s nothing happening in Bahrain.” How does that fit together???? Boullier gives the answer: “We are happy to go and race in Bahrain. We just make sure that the safety is respected for all OUR people, no special issue.” He’s right, no special issue!!!! And anyway, who knows if ‘opposition amounts to NOTHING MORE than a few kids throwing molotov cocktails at police and setting fire to tyres in the road’
    I’ll be watching safely from my home, hoping to get some of these bonus features on top of the usual racing excitement…. Shame on all of us!

  18. Glen says:

    First, im a huge f1 fan, love the sport and have interrupted sunday lunches with the family since my pre-teens to catch some f1 on the telly… Oh yeah need sky now, another day…

    I’m really disappointed at bernie’s comments though not suprised given the fees and funding from middle east states.

    If Bernie were CEO of a ftse 100 or Dow / Nasdaq company, he wouldn’t survive his tenure making those kind of comments. But I’m f1 it seems when bernie says something nobody will disagree. I’ve a huge amount of respect for what he has done for f1, but sometimes it seems greed really does get the better of him.

    Make the right decision yes, but don’t be so rude as to pretend nothing happening, that’s really disrespectful and should be below someone that has achieved so much and holds such a high public profile. More the kind of comment to come from mario balotelli!

    1. LD01 says:

      100% Agree.

      Bernie, pretty disgusting [mod] to come out and say these comments. The sort that doesn’t believe in a free press him and would much rather the plebs kept in their box.

      The drivers should politely decline to any marketing / media responsibilities for the entire weekend. Not a protest. Just out of respect for the obvious bad taste which will surround the race for those with an actual conscience. Arrive, race, get their heads down, get out and forget about it.

  19. Seán Craddock says:

    What about all the GP2 drivers and team personel and FIA? There are two race weekends in a row in GP2 so they’ll be there for 2 weeks!!

  20. Wu says:

    The sport should stand firm – don’t get involved in politics and don’t let politicians involve it in politics. Bahrain has broken that saying it will unify the people. It should be punished accordingly just like Turkey was for the cypriot debacle.

  21. Gareth Buss says:

    My biggest concern is what if we have another Silverstone invasion of 2003. Desperate people do desperate things and this could end up making F1 look bad for all the wrong reasons.
    The reason Bahrain is on the calender is because it makes Bernie money. I really do think it is time for this man to step down, he has done a lot of very controversial moves lately.

  22. Kitkat says:

    I find it highly ironic that this whole debate about Bahrain is settled in, of all places, China.

    Hope I’m wrong, but I strongly believe F1 has made a huge mistake by going to Bahrain. Of course the F1 people are going to be “safe”, but that’s completely missing the point. Why is F1 giving a dictatorship in this situation a platform to “showcase” to the world???

  23. MK_Chris says:

    James,

    Your usual Driver of the Day vote.
    In the Bahrain poll I very much hope that you will include the option of :-

    I decided not to watch the race at all.

    On the assumption that most F1 fans have integrity I for one would like to see the proportion who select this option.

  24. Coronwen says:

    James, I must take issue with your “Will opposition amount to nothing more than a few kids throwing molotov cocktails at police and setting fire to tyres in the road?”.

    In your post on Thursday we had “former Metropolitan Police chief John Yates” saying “trouble consists of a few small protests involving youths”. (Yesterday’s IPCC report concluded that he had shown “poor judgment” with regard to Mr Wallis, so I’m not sure why Jean Todt considered his view worth publishing.)

    So are “youths” no longer part of society?

    The protesters in Tahrir Square got rid of Mubarak but it was The Shabab – the youth – who protected the protestors.

    I’m 62 and was therefore a youth in the 60′s – and it was youth which changed society then.

    And I was at the British GP in 2010 and would guess at least 25% of the spectators were under 25. There’ll be empty grandstands in fifteen years time if “youth” is alienated.

    Society goes from age 0 to age 100 plus, and every section should be respected. But possibly it’s youth which does, while the rest just watch and talk.

    1. James Allen says:

      not sure what point you are making. My question isn’t about age it’s about the scale of the protest

      1. Coronwen says:

        OK, good. It’s a collective media thing I think. Yates’s comment “… protests involving youths” is typical of it – if it’s youths it’s presumed to be hooliganism, not protest. Youths have as much right to protest as anyone – more in a way as they seem to be excluded from so much of society. As so many drivers are young, and in a privileged position, it’d be good to hear some of them speaking out. But I guess contracts etc. forbid.

  25. nic says:

    I remember when a protester got on the track at Silverstone in 2003. That was a rather obscure protest. Something to do with him wanting people to read the Bible. It wasn’t that difficult for him to disrupt the event. They had to bring out the safety car.

    The capacity of the circuit is apparently 50,000 and the population is 1.2 million. So in theory 4% of the entire population of the country could be there. I would imagine that the security operation you would need to put on to ensure nothing goes wrong will be quite noticeable to all the journalists that are going there. It’s not going to be fun to be there quite apart from all the moral considerations.

    I wish they had found a way to skip it again this year. I also wish Bernie wasn’t the spokesperson on this issue. He is quite entertaining if you are used to him and understand where he is coming from, but I don’t imagine he comes across that well to anyone who is encountering him for the first time. In the BBC interview he claimed he didn’t know what any of the issues were about in Bahrain and then only a short time later claimed he had been in contact with some people in the opposition. …Doh.

  26. Mandel says:

    I have not heard anyone raising concerns on China’s track record on a good number of issues starting with Tibet by any HR group on any form of media lately…!
    No one is saying what is/was happening in Bahrain is right but the truce is it does not matter as Bernie gets what he wants and he draw the conclusion that is a GO.
    Let’s be frank without F1′s incredible sucess & worldwide audience some of us would possible not even be aware – of the existence of this tiny Gulf Kingdom with a population of circa 1.25 million (compared to China’s 1.3 billion) buffer state between Iran and Saudi Arabia housing a 3500 strong US Navy base – let alone raise our concerns how the fate of “democracy” will turn out on the streets of Manama. Such as the power of media and the misuse of media anything can get out of proportion. Anyone doubting that the race will be a thriller due to the extra tension is welcome to attend in person and see/decide for themselves.

    After all F1 is not for the faint hearted and drivers might injure themselves or god forbid even die on a racetrack under our watchful eyes still the show must go on.

  27. ew says:

    Can the drivers not go on strike? The teams do not appear to want to go there from what is ‘leaked’ but are contractually obliged to so have no choice. If all the drivers decided collectively not to go then I doubt the teams would sack all the drivers expecially the Alonsos, Buttons etc. Particularly as a grid full of the reserve drivers next week doesn’t make F1 look good.

  28. ROBERTO MARQUEZ says:

    In my country if you go to a public hospital you have to take your own syriges, your own antibiothics, your bed shets , the film for an x-ray,etc,etc.Our congress is dominated by the goverment so they approve whatever they want, and if you oppose the people in power you can go to jail forever. The leader is an admirer of the communist murderer Fidel Castro, and he hates everything that has to do with modern countries that practice free enterprise and total liberty.Williams should drop PDVSA sponsorship,its only target is to give poor people in Venezuela “bread and circus “like the romans.Formula 1 is unfortunately inmersed in politics ,we like it or not.

  29. Andy says:

    I wonder how many people who have said that the race should not happen would attend the race if they were given free tickets and travel?

  30. Ryan Eckford says:

    Hello James, I am looking at a Smart Traveller website for Australian travellers. There are 4 ratings a country can get. They are: Exercise normal safety precautions, Exercise a high degree of caution, Reconsider your need to travel, Do not travel. Bahrain is: Reconsider your need to travel. Brazil and India have: Execise a high degree of caution, the rest of the grand prix’s have: Exercise normal safety precautions.

    The question everyone in Formula 1 has to ask themselves, ‘Do we really NEED to travel to Bahrain?’ Obviously, Formula 1 needs to travel to Bahrain. What are your thoughts James?

  31. Andrew Kirk says:

    One hopes the race goes off without any issues but I would hope that wouldn’t because of a small army of guards with guns hanging around the race track and rather people simply wanting to go see and enjoy a motor racing event. While I do not think it will happen as I pray Bernie would see the bad press at its very worse the whole thing could be seen as a modern verison 1972 Summer Olympics where the games went on despite a group of athletes, coaches and officials held hostage in their apartments. Truly a disgusting moment which is shown brilliantly in the documentary, One Day in September.

  32. Andrew Kirk says:

    Also James really do hope that you answer my question about how it feels to be a sporting journalist reporting on such a political issue. But understand if you want to wait for after the event. I am just curious to see and hear your take on it, clearly your bond to follow the sport where to goes, Bernie holds a race on the moon you’d have to be there. Your job which you do brilliantly on the site is to talk about the sport presenting the facts, topics of interest and views of those inside for us the readers to form our own views and points of interest. But it is about sport not politics that I am sure that you signed up for. While there have been scandals and deaths relating to the sport that is the key point they relate to the sport ie Senna dying he was a driver, Renault caught cheating sometimes teams bend or brakes rules in sport. So to hear your views as best you can (I don’t you shall be launching into an anti BBC rant :P) would be highly interesting about how you feel about talking about the event? like I earlier SKY and BBC face a tough call on what their content will be in build up. Brundle has it easy as the cars will be racing round but what are EJ, DC and Jake going to present in BBC’s opening?

  33. Steven says:

    What does F1 have to do with her son being killed?

  34. Probably nothing, but if you are not on the side of the government, it plays well with the revolutionary opposition, and provides a narrative that gives the young man’s death a deep religious and revolutionary meaning. Martyrdom is a powerful rallying call for would-be revolutionaries.

  35. David Ryan says:

    I think the most telling part for me on this subject was on the interview with Jake Humphrey on the BBC coverage this morning. I believe his words when asked about Bahrain were, “I don’t actually know what’s happening out there, but…(etc)”

    Now, forgive me for being a bit uncharitable, but surely that’s not a good position to be in less than a week before the race is due to start? No wonder F1′s reputation is seen as being in the firing line.

  36. Fred says:

    James, you have to go bahrain, ’cause of contract obligations, etc, etc, etc…
    But if you could choose, would you?

  37. the B.E advocate says:

    This will probably attract some flak, but i guess someone has to play the devil’s advocate.
    1. professional sport/entertainment has a lot if not almost everything to do with politics and money. we all consume it. It is made for us to enjoy, wouldn’t exist without a market, therefore we are all to blame if you really want to point fingers. Has that much changed since the games in the roman arenas?
    2. would you really expect a multi billion industry (other than F1) to stop just because you’re uneasy about this kind of moral dilemma? How far will you go and who should be the judge? In F1 Alone, Should we cancel the Australian GP because it disturbs the black swans in the lake and some of the residents of the neighbouring suburbs or just the brazillian and Indian GP on account of the poverty in their slums? What about japan and their whaling, china and their hunger for dirty coal and Tibet, etc. Did you know that they still execute people in Singapore (be it for things like drug trafficking, still, are we all for the death penalty to drug mules?)
    3. is your country of origin free of all human rights issues or support to countries/regimes that have issues of one kind or the other?
    4. where does the petrol in your car come from? and most of your electronics, clothing and whatnot? Would you stop using/consuming those if they came from ethically problematic countries? How much of the economic market in your country is attached one way or the other with countries like Bahrain? Its good enough for your bank/credit union/investment company but not to F1?
    5. how many of you live under a democratic government? What have you done democratically besides commenting on this website and maybe promising to boycott F1 to help resolve the problems in Bahrain? Have you contacted your representative in the government to push for a quick resolution to the problem in Bahrain; Syria; Iraq; Egypt; Sudan; Ethiopia; etc… do you know what the problem is? Do you have the answer? If you do, have you told your democratic representative in the government yet? Just before you contact him/her, count the number of successful ‘western democratic’ interventions in countries like Bahrain. its a very round number in my opinion.
    6. Or could it just be because B.E is making shedloads of money off it that makes it suddenly so wrong? This might get me the most flak but i like B.E. he deserves every euro/dollar/pound/ he made and will make. He is one of the best business people of our period. i think that without him F1 wouldn’t have been as popular, successful, entertaining, educating (millions of people in the world will hear of a place called Bahrain and the poor people of the country only wanting democracy and peace but being oppressed by the evil oil king and his lust for fast? red cars), intelligent, highly diversified and multicultural, and most of all profitable and stable enough to sustain and provide income and a dream job to thousands of people around the world
    To sum up i say let the games continue, let us all eat and drink and be merry, he who lives in a house made of glass etc,
    at the end of the day it’s only a bit more than one weekend and its only a car race, i doubt it’ll change much in the grand scheme of things

    1. ROBERTO MARQUEZ says:

      Well said ,I agree completely

    2. Kevin Green says:

      After that long complexed speel I bet you feel silly now! read today’s news on Bahrain???

      1. the B.E advocate says:

        no, not really. but it’s a bit lenghty to explain this, the race will start soon and i don’t want to miss it. maybe after the race we’ll be a bit wiser. i might still end up feeling silly- i’ll keep you posted either way

      2. the B.E advocate says:

        it was a very good race, i think its going to be a very good season, and i don’t feel silly about my comments. in two, three weeks time at most, this whole thing will blow away. The F1 circus will move on, the people of Bahrain will keep fighting with each other- only without that much media coverage, and the people who love to hate B.E will find something else to be riled up about- he will probably give them something new that’s worth biting into- the majority of those will probably forget about Bahrain and its people’s human rights and their fight for “freedom”. Which paradoxically might be a good thing : no F1 circus- non news item- no media coverage- no good doers, well wishers, and couch supporters – less reasons for violence. It Might not solve the core problem (i am not sure how many people actually know what the problem is or have even a partial solution to it) but i doubt violent protests in front of / for the world media are better.

  38. olivier says:

    But it did happen. The car bomb near the (Force India) F1 crew.

    It is a fact now. F1 is a catalyst to violence. Get the hell out of there!! Both you James & F1 …

    My advice for Sunday if the race does go ahead. Cancel the podium celebrations. No podium = no gathering of a crowd. I am not watching this. Instead I’ll be relying on your site.

  39. Israf says:

    I am +1 NOT WATCHING THE BAHRAIN GP

    Although Schumi had me losing interest during his ’7-star’ haul,F1′s been one of my few obsessions since 1988. For me it has become the only form of motorsport worth sacrificing the health of our planet for.

    I hope you can sense that I LOVE FORMULA ONE.I will really struggle to uphold my boycott this weekend (I am setting the recorder as we speak) but to know that I WILL TRY not to watch the GP should show you how much respect you’ve sacrificed this time Bernie. Really?..you couldn’t a f f o r d to let this one go? (rhetorical)

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