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Bahraini opposition leader predicts “violence” for GP weekend
Posted By: James Allen  |  10 Apr 2012   |  9:24 am GMT  |  117 comments

There is a Grand Prix this weekend in China, but it’s the one the following Sunday in Bahrain which is dominating the headlines and looks set to dominate the agenda in Shanghai this weekend as well.

One of the leading opponents of the Bahraini ruling regime yesterday predicted “violence” on the streets of the country if the Formula 1 Grand Prix goes ahead next week.

Speaking in a discussion on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, in which I also took part, Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said, “I’m afraid that it will turn to violence.. You see growing anger against the F1 here, it’s become a symbol of the ruling regime here in Bahrain.

“Some people say ‘Let’s separate politics and sport’, yes you can do that in the UK but not in a repressive regime where everything is in the hands of the rulers.”

You can hear all of the eight minute discussion on the Bahrain GP, starting at 14 mins in, here BBC Radio 4 PM programme

This threat is precisely what the teams are afraid of. In the last 24 hours one unnamed team principal told the Guardian that most of the teams want the race cancelled, or at least postponed, as they are profoundly uncomfortable about going there.

Damon Hill broke the ice last week on this subject when he said, “It would be a bad state of affairs, and bad for Formula One, to be seen to be enforcing martial law in order to hold the race. That is not what this sport should be about. Looking at it today you’d have to say that [the race] could be creating more problems than it’s solving.”

And now the unnamed team boss has said, “I feel very uncomfortable about going to Bahrain.

“If I’m brutally frank, the only way they can pull this race off without incident is to have a complete military lockdown there. And I think that would be unacceptable, both for F1 and for Bahrain. But I don’t see any other way they can do it.

“We’re all hoping the FIA calls it off. From a purely legal point of view, in terms of insurance and government advice, we are clear to go. But what we find worrying is that there are issues happening every day.”

According to Gazzetta dello Sport today 10 of the 12 team principals are in favour of the race being called off. One team sent its team manager over there to recce the situation last week and he reported back to other teams that things don’t look particularly unusual, but the situation is evolving quite quickly and what is clear is that there will be intense meetings between Bernie Ecclestone (who will be attending his first race of the season), FIA president Jean Todt and the teams during the Chinese Grand Prix weekend.

Ecclestone has always maintained that the protests are small in scale and that there is nothing for the teams or other F1 personnel to worry about. In the first sign that he’s softening his position on this matter, Ecclestone has told the Times today, ‘If the teams don’t want to go, then we cannot make them.”

The teams have hitherto said that they are leaving it to the FIA to make the decision on this matter as it is their role to ensure the safety of the event and its participants. But the Guardian article is a sign that some teams are now trying to force the issue. The Bahrainis have quite a bit of influence within the FIA, including a seat on the World Council. They also have a major share holding in McLaren, which makes team principal Martin Whitmarsh’s position awkward, in light of his role as FOTA president, which requires him to reflect the views of the seven teams still involved in that organisation.

I think the point is that F1 teams are keen to race in Bahrain, but only when the country has stabilised again after the 2011 uprisings and when the teams can be sure that their personnel are not at risk and the race will be played out against a backdrop of calm.

Although the authorities in Bahrain want to use F1 as a symbol that the country is well advanced down that path, the continuing protests and threats indicate that it’s not as far down that road as it might have hoped to be.

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FYI: F1 is already having an effect in Bahrain, and the race hasn’t even started.



How come other sporting events are not affected?? The golf last year and again this weekends Inaugral Bahrain invitational. It really seems that in terms of population a small group is out to soley use F1 for political means. There will be no violence unless those who wish to shoe Bahrain in a bad light cause it. Unfortunately i think by the sounds of it they have made their minds up to cause confrontation in the hope that the police have to use force.

Recently we were calling on our police to use more force against rioters is there a difference in the case of guarding the GP?

Kevin McCaughey

“Some people say ‘Let’s separate politics and sport’, yes you can do that in the UK but not in a repressive regime where everything is in the hands of the rulers.”

That says it all really for me. And it is the perennial argument to sporting events of this kind. History has shown us though that the correct decision is to show moral courage and not attend events which are so succinctly described above in the quote.


Bahrein should be replaced by Paul Ricard next year. This way we could have back to back races:

1. French GP (Paul Ricard)

2. Barcelona

3. Monaco

… and Spa could remain on the calendar 🙂 It is always nice to kick off the finale with a classic GP after the Summer break!


As we discussed here, ultimately the teams have the largest influence here, if they don’t turn up, then there will be no race, but they may face undesired consequences, not only with the FIA/Bahrain/sponsors/media etc but with its current fan base who are still eagerly awaiting the news.

There is a heck of a lot to consider with this highly volatile situation, and it’s not something your grandma is going to decide over a cup of tea and a scone chatting to Dorris down at the Bingo Hall.


What about the fans that booked tickets, hotels, etc.? It’s really weird to think about canceling the event just NOW! They should really thought about canceling it way before now or they should proceed with it anyway. I meant it’s not like the current situation wasn’t obvious, we’ve been talking about it for months now.


I agree!

And how different is this from holding an event in China, a major violator of human rights?

Or Sao Paolo, where members of the Sauber team were robbed at gun point. Button only got a way from armed assault with AKs thanks to quick thinkning by his driver.

I have no idea what legitimacy or how strong this opposition is in Bahrain, but had the same threats been put forward in Brazil or China, we would probably see the military stepping in.

I think we need to accept that Formula 1, just like the Olympics, is not about changing political systems. We should welcome protests as log as they are peaceful.


Good point. What about all the people who work in F1 who have return tickets from Shanghai via Bahrain?


Feels like there will be violence from the reports. What an uncomfortable situation. People at the top level will have the highest security but what about the mechanics, chefs and other lesser employees, I’d be looking over my back for sure.

How dare Bernie claims of democracy for the people of Bahrain by staging an F1 race, when blood, torture and killings are happening right now.

James I’m sure you don’t want to be there.


When was the last interesting race in Bahrain?

Any excuse should be used to avoid racing there.


Well if we would need to apply criteria such a humans rights etc. to approve locations where F1 races are held I think we need to cancel quite a bunch of them. China must of course be cancelled. Had it not already been run, the Malaysian GP would need to be cancelled. Turkey would need to be cancelled. India likewise. South Korea must go, etc. Or maybe we just have to accept Bahrain like we accept all of the others.


I will forward a perhaps unpopular position, everyone is whining about violence this and violence that… why dont they just go and prove that htis is nothing more than a bunch of hot air. My bet goes that if the race happens next weekend, no violence, no protests, nothing. This, to me, is just a bunch of posturing by the opposition, they even said so muchlast year, that they would bring the issue back up this year. They arent going to do anything. More people get killed in gang/ criminal violence in the major cities every day around the world than in these protests.


Yes Mr devils advocate. BUT if you were actually going, would you be prepared to “bet” on it…..

I would think not. Certainly a little cavalier to presume others would even if you do…….


I say bring on the GP. Whether or not the GP takes place, it won’t fundamentally effect politics there. The only issue is whether or not the F1 circus will be safe, and I think this risk is being blown out of proportion, including certain groups that use the media to better agendas. also, its been a tough 3 weeks and I’ve been looking forward to two races in a row 🙁


The ‘circus’ will be safe, but a large number of people (fans, media, lesser team members) are outside the ‘ring of protection’ – usually in hotels downtown and within range of attention-seeking protestors …including our own James Allen I believe! This is what the teams are concerned about. (Remember Jensen in Brazil?)


Surely not? So what about the inevitable violence between anti government protestors and state security which will occur if the Grand Prix takes place?

Quite simply by hosting this Grand Prix in two weeks the sport will be hosting the possibility of sparking a monumental demonstration/protest which will surely escalate into violence and possible deaths which won’t only forever damage Bahrain’s future as a Grand Prix venue but will forever damage the image of Bernie Ecclestone and probably f1. The Bahrain Grand Prix has to be cancelled.


Forever damage Bahrain’s future as a GP venue? Their future is already forever damaged. You speak with such certainty on a topic that is based on possibilities. The Bahraini government if anything will look to demonstrate good behavior during an international sporting event, and certainly not crackdown on innocent people should there be cameras around. They will be on their best behavior.

The only fear is the opposition, and I don’t believe violence toward a sporting events teams or even fans benefit them at all either. The only demonstration that would benefit them is the generally peaceful kind. Does F1 give the oppositions a chance to demonstrate to a broad audience their feelings and draw a closer look at Bahrain? Yes. Would violent demonstrations gain them favor? No, it would reinforce what the Bahraini government has labeled them as. So I think Formula One racing there has more positive effects than negative, given that it will inevitably help the Bahraini economy (infact that is the only true thing you can be certain of).


Any speculation on who the unnamed team boss is? From the quotes he sounds like a native english speaker.


So, any chance the team principals will grow some balls and say in public what they’ve been discussing in private – that they don’t want to go?



Presumably there will need to be a decision prior to teams debunking from China? The sight of teams and media entering & setting up in Bahrain could well inflame the violence prior to the race weekend even starting.


Apart from my general aversion to GPs in odd locations where there is no fan base, I don’t think the political climate is roght for any major sporting event to take place in Bahrain.


“Bahrain is dominating the headlines”!

I haven’t heard or read anything recently in the media about the problems in Bahrain OTHER than F1 related media. I may be mistaken but it appears that any problems in Bahrain are not considered to sufficiently newsworthy to make the news in their own right.

BE is quoted by the BBC as saying that a team representative had been to Bahrain and told BE today that “there’s no problem”

Ignoring the politics, rights or wrongs etc, my question is why is this column, as good as it is, the BBC etc continually raising uncertainty about the situation in Bahrain, when Bahrain’s problems are not making the general news?

The protest groups in Bahrain must be rubbing their hands at the amount of coverage they are receiving due to coverage such as this, because they are not getting publicity from anywhere else.

If you don’t go to Bahrain then you have to question the participation in other countries.

If the teams are so much against going, are they, their sponsers etc still trading in Bahrain?


Great comment well pointed out. If things are so bad why are we not hearing more in the general media like we do with syria? F1 reports make it sound just as bad if not worse. Yet not mentioned anywhere. It is being used by a bunch of antagonists to try and get their way. Think what troubles we have had that have made the media here in the last year with evictions from travelling camps, student fees, london and city riots, and the st pauls camp. Not exactly great here. So if a student groupl said they would disrupt the British Gp to show their dissatisfaction would it still go ahead?


“It’s really not up to me to decide whether it should go ahead or not. It’s up to the people in Bahrain to decide. At this time, they are not cancelling the event, so presumably they are happy.” – Ecclestone quote from BBC article.

What a monumentally disgusting point of view/thing to say.


Can’t they squeeze in another race later on in the season instead? The Nurburgring shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe they can do a one race special deal?


They should just pull the race and never go back again. This will keep happening every year.


two weeks out from a major international sporting event, and yet a decision to run the event or not hasn’t been reached.



Is that advertising poster a p***-take? Are they actually trying to antagonise people?

From an F1-side, the fact that this situation has been allowed to happen is absolutely ridiculous. We’re two weeks away from the race and still in limbo over whether it will go ahead. This should have been dealt with months ago by simply removing it from the calendar for as long as it takes until everybody involved was 100% confident there would be no problems.

The fact that Bernie has, I believe, pushed this through shows that in this instance he is putting what’s best for himself ahead of what’s best for F1 and the Bahraini people. He’s been brilliant for the sport on the whole but this is far from his finest hour.

Andrew Halliday

Goodbye Bahrain – perhaps time for a return to San Marino?


Meanwhile in China ……… Tibetan Monks set themselves on fire.


If “Todt the invisible” is actually going to wake up and do something he has already left it far too late to assume any position of moral integrity. He along with the rest of the FIA have “dragged their heels”, turned a blind eye” , “sloped their shoulders and generally shown all the leadership and backbone of a rice pudding. Not one of then dare stand up to Bernie, and now Bernie himself is trying to shirk responsibility by saying “we can’t make teams go” “yes you can and do, they are contracted to go by both the rules and the Concorde agreement. The former may be bent but the latter is cast in lawyers, tens of metres thick.


I’m not sure about this, but 2 years ago when the new teams were being brought in and there was doubt some of them would be ready in time, it was stated that any team can miss up to 2 races in the calendar. If this is correct then it is possible that a team could simply refuse to atten Bahrain.

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