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Bahrain organiser says F1 people will be safe
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Posted By: James Allen  |  18 Apr 2013   |  10:32 pm GMT  |  20 comments

The organiser of the Bahrain Grand Prix said today that the F1 personnel attending the race this weekend will be safe and claimed that 77% of the Bahraini people wanted the race to go ahead.

I had a chance to interview Zayed Al-Zayani, Chairman of Bahrain International Circuit this afternoon for BBC Radio 5 Live and asked him if he could guarantee the safety of F1 people,” Absolutely,” he said, “They have always been safe here and I think this year won’t be any different.”

Last year four Force India staff members were caught in a firebomb incident on the highway but it’s clear this year that the police have significantly tightened the security on the main highway to the circuit and at night time there are police road blocks on the way back into the downtown area, where protests might be expected to take place. Opposition groups have promised a “volcano of anger” tomorrow Friday when practice takes place.

There was an explosion in he business district on Sunday and today a protest led to firebombs being thrown at police and six people being arrested.

So far the mood in the paddock is less anxious than in 2012, with staff going about their business, coming and going from the track, nevertheless being vigilant.

There have been calls from local opposition parties and from a cross party parliamentary committee in the UK for the race to be cancelled, as it was in 2011, but as last year, the organisers as well as the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have toughed it out and insisted that the race should go ahead.

Nothing much has changed in the country since last F1 visited. There have been some discussions between government and opposition, but the outcome has been limited. Meanwhile in recent days protest groups have focussed their protests specifically against the Grand Prix. They see the race as a symbol of the ruling regime and claim that the race going ahead is intended to project an image to the world that everything is back to normal in the country after the 2011 uprising.They want to disrupt the event to show that it is not.

“We’re not 100% back to normal,” Al Zayani told me, “That’s evident because there is a dialogue going on between the government and the opposition. It’s good that the dialogue is going on. I think we’ve come a long way, there has been a lot of reform since 2011, and there is more to come.”

Last year there was unhappiness within the F1 community that the organisers used “F1″ in a political context with its “UniF1ed” promotional message about the race.

This year the approach has been noticeably toned down, with no F1 reference.

Al Zayani said that the main reason that the race should go ahead was an economic one; since the troubles began tourism has been hammered and the influx of overseas money has been limited. The 2012 race brought in £180 million, he claimed.

Ecclestone is expected to attend the race, but FIA president Jean Todt has come in for criticism from some within the sport, particularly several UK newspapers, for not travelling to the event. He has issued a statement saying, “Sport and F1 can have a positive and healing effect in situations where conflict, social unrest and tensions cause distress.”

McLaren’s Jenson Button said, “I have to believe the FIA are making the right call. We have 19 races around the world and I trust their decision not to put us in danger and it is the right thing to do.

“I did not see anything last year. It is no different from 2004 in terms of what we see when we are here. But I am sure that what we see and what the Bahrainis see is two very different things.”

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20 Comments
  1. Tyler says:

    92% of all statistics are made up. I know this, because I just made that up.

    1. Random 79 says:

      Don’t tell goferet ;)

  2. Tim says:

    Jean Todt is apparently tone deaf to human rights.

    How about the safety of Bahrainis? Never hear discussion about that. All we hear about is the safety of F1 people. Why?

  3. alexbookoo says:

    I know some people are tired of this but F1 still shouldn’t be going to Bahrain. To bring it home, consider this: last year in the build-up to the race one of the widely quoted voices was the Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab. He was quoted on this site more than once (for example, here: http://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2012/04/bahraini-opposition-leader-predicts-violence-for-gp-weekend/), and took part in a BBC radio discussion with James.

    This year we haven’t heard from Nabeel because he is in prison. His crime? “Involvement in illegal practices and inciting gatherings and calling for unauthorized marches through social networking sites”; “participation in an illegal assembly”; and “participation in an illegal gathering and calling for a march without prior notification”. (http://rt.com/news/bahrain-activist-rajab-jail-819/)

  4. mhilgtx says:

    Well without getting political as I was yesterday, let me just say that I wish you and all of those over there safe returns.

  5. sarcosuchus says:

    F1 personnel may be safe, but what about the protestors of the brutal Bahraini regime? Locked up and tortured for months, if not shot dead. There’s a lot of shameless apologizing for F1 – “Its not for F1 to interfere”. Even after Sterling Moss’ atrociously misogynous comments, no-one would call him out on it. Not even an article on this site simply reporting what he said. Its clear that concern for humanity doesn’t form any part of the F1 circus. “Racers” shouldn’t be inconvenience by such trivialities as human suffering.

  6. goferet says:

    Glad to know the F1 people’s safety has been guaranteed.
    Yes, safety both off and on track is paramount in this business for at the end of the day, this is just a sport after all.

    Now unfortunately the recent goings on in Bahrain have tainted this race as it has become that race the circus people would rather skip and it’s also that one race, the circus people can’t wait to finish.

    Anyway, from the looks of it, the situation isn’t as tense as it was last year and this is largely thanks to the fact that the opposition discovered last year that the vast majority of Bahraini people love F1 and welcome it but also due to the fact that the Arab Spring is over.

    I believe it’s the politicians that try to stock up the flames by using the sport as a bargaining chip to get a seat on the table.

    All in all, I for one will be looking forward to some nice action this weekend from the comfort of my home. Yes, can’t wait to catch up on the latest episode of Sebi-Webber affair.

    P.s.

    A “volcano of anger” >>> #giggles

  7. Tornillo Amarillo says:

    In 1978 the FIFA World Cup took place in Argentina and the Grand Prix there saw Mario Andretti win that first race of the season ahead of Niki Lauda and Patrick Depailler. It was the time of the Dirty War in that country that according with Wikipedia is commonly accepted that between 9,000 and 30,000 people had been killed or disappeared.

    1. Tom says:

      Well that’s ok then. I’m well up for a North Korean and Zimbabwean Grand Prix too now.

  8. Cedgy says:

    There is so much competition going on to host a GP between so many different countries. I don’t understand why F1 keeps going to Barhain and risk the lives of F1 staff. Ditch the race and replace it with another GP it’s that simple!

    1. Tim says:

      Ditch the race and replace it with another GP it’s that simple!….

      I don’t know, but I will have a fair guess – it’s all about money. The contract will guarantee the race to Bahrain for however many numbers of years. If Bernie/F1 pulls the plug early, there will doubtless be some sort of penalty clause.
      Bernie et al won’t want to cough up, hence the race goes ahead. Simples :-)

  9. Mon Pen says:

    The trouble with mixing sport and politics is having to listen to or read the misinformed drivel that comes out. Leave politics to the politicians and encourage sports people to stay quiet [mod]. I mean, we don’t expect David Cameron to score goals for Man U, why should we expect Bernie Ecclestone to have a clue about the intricacies of international relations?

  10. Elie says:

    Each year we ask the same question and the question remain- is there enough evidence of the regimes human rights abuse and if there is F1 should not be racing . I’ve always been a firm believer that you cannot mix the politics with the sport and was truly annoyed with that UNI f1 ed message last year. I don’t think sport can distract or settle political or social differences Unless that sport comes from within the nation itself/ has its own competitors or can resolve differences on the same “playing field” – this is clearly not the case in F1 and Bahrain- so Jean Todts comments are a little off the mark here.

    What the opposition to the Bahrain organisers see is that “here is a sport that is bringing £ 180 million pound in to a regime that is pocketing it and getting richer whilst we get poorer”. I don’t know enough of the human rights situation there but If that is the case-then the F1 community have a bigger moral dilemma which effects their image globally. As great a circuit as it is – they should not go there this is notwithstanding the risks to the teams etc.

    On the flip side we have places like Turkey cancelled because Mr Ecclestone wants more money in his pocket- same each year in Melbourne even forcing night racing !

    How much money does it take for rich people to turn a blind eye is really the question here isn’t it.

    1. Random 79 says:

      “How much money does it take for rich people to turn a blind eye is really the question here isn’t it.”

      The problem with rich people is that they always want more.

  11. Dai Dactic says:

    In the beginning peace was the ‘norm’ in the country so F1 there was O.K.
    Then protest and dissent came into the picture so F1 was ‘not acceptable’ there.
    Now protest and dissent are the ‘norm’ in the country so F1 there is O.K. once again.

    Something to be said for repetition dulling the critical mind?

  12. Kay says:

    Just curious James, since the situation in Bahrain is quite dangerous, and many governments warn their citizens from going, are there actually anyone in attendance of the race? The local people may be too poor or barred from entering anywhere close, and tourists won’t probably be around. So no revenue can be made there. I can’t imagine how the Bahraini family wish to continue to run the event when there’s no one turning up.

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, there are some fans here out the back of the circuit. No idea who they are. I spoke to some and they were expats and locals, seemed on the level (ie not government employees with free tickets)

      I travelled out with some very excited UK fans. A capacity crowd here is only around 40k

  13. M.Riaz says:

    you know james the strange issue here is that whilst we are all great fans of f1, bernie become a money hoover. bahrain besides the fact that is a tiny island in the gulf has a grand prix, and for years the government has been the main patron , the evengt never has been profitable ever. yet bernie [mod]] wont encourage grand prixs in countries that one will give better brand image for f1 second have fans that will really support the event. we out in south africa been promised more proactive negotiations however bernie blows just hot air as f1 is less profitable here. is it truely a world championship without africa hosting an event. this is a shame. more so f1 is being held on a tiny island state which is a tinder box however money gets precedence over safety and the fact that it really is a dull event.

  14. M.Riaz says:

    in addition think about the years of isolation and boycott south afica experienced under the apartheid regime. yet we support an event at the expense of other more exciting options only cos of. cha ching cha ching…. shame on you bernie>>>>>>>>

  15. Paul says:

    Vodafone reportedly dropped their F1 sponsorship of McLaren over Bahrain. I am sure other major sponsors are also very uncomfortable with their brands being associated with brutal oppression by wealthy dictators who’re prepared to kill their impoverished public for peacefully protesting.

    Sadly this is the only thing that might persuade Bernie it’s not worth it. [mod]

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