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F1 Opinion 24

Why F1 shouldn’t go to Bahrain

So news out this morning that the Bahrain Grand Prix is going ahead next weekend.

We’ve been waiting for a viewpoint from the FIA for sometime now, and this morning it stated that “based on the current information the FIA has at this stage, it is satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place for the running of a Formula 1 World Championship event in Bahrain”.

After monitoring the situation closely since last year, the FIA will have better information than we have in the media over here. However, the fact that the race needs ‘proper security measures’ in the first place is surely reason enough not to go. No circuit is ever safe – the Hockenheim and Silverstone track invasions are proof of this – but in Bahrain the F1 race has become a political animal. If martial law has to be implemented to keep the F1 fraternity and the citizens of Bahrain safe over the race weekend then that is unacceptable.

opinion  Why F1 shouldnt go to Bahrain

Sir Jackie Stewart was on BBC News 24 with me yesterday and he is a firm believer that sport can unite people. I agree with him, but only if the sport in question is neutral. There is an invitation golf tournament in Bahrain this weekend and so far we are yet to see any problems arising from that. Formula 1 is a different matter altogether though because not only does the Sunni government own the circuit, but it also has a stake in McLaren, one of the competing teams. Sport and politics do not mix.

Add to this the fact that Formula 1 is an elitist – and very rich – sport, and it’s easy to see why many don’t want the race to go ahead. If and when it does, it will become a potential launching pad for any voices that want to be heard. F1 is watched by millions of people around the world and any sponsor will tell you how much exposure they can get from it.

opinion  Why F1 shouldnt go to Bahrain

Another point that has been raised is that if we do cancel the race, it will set a dangerous precedent. Will future threats and protests mean immediately cancelled races, football matches or even Olympics? There is certain logic to that argument, but surely that precedent was set last year when the race was cancelled then. Yes, the protests were more visible and violent in 2011 and it was the Bahraini government that called the race off, but this year there have once again been very specific threats to the F1 race. Any of you who have seen the slogans painted on walls, or the picture of the protesters dressed as F1 drivers carrying toy machine guns, will agree.

Now that the race seems as though it will go ahead we can only hope that it happens without any problems for Formula 1 or the citizens of Bahrain. If something does happen it will be very hard for F1 to recover its integrity. The race will bring much-needed funds to the country, and of course the £40 million fee to Formula One Management, but if ever there was a time to put everyone’s safety over money, this is it.

Add your comments

24 comments on Why F1 shouldn’t go to Bahrain

  1. chris b, 13 April 2012 14:12

    i am appalled at this decision – it seems as if F1 has dragged itself from the dirge from 1994-2006, from there it just got better and better and now seems to be on a self-destruct mission, the Middle East is going through a huge transition and whatever the rights or wrongs of this are I am not its judge, but a F1 race to show off its wealth in amongst the daily tragedies is just a wee bit common isn’t it? i suppose the other thing to consider Ed is that if the ruling family are overthrown there certainly won’t be any future Bahraini GP’s will there?

    someone on a different thread suggested a TV ‘boycott’ dangerous ground but we;;, I won’t watch it on principal – that might be interesting

  2. Benedict, 13 April 2012 14:33

    Small but important point: They were carrying toy machine guns, not machine guns.

  3. Ed Foster, 13 April 2012 14:34

    Thanks Benedict – amended. Small, but yes, important!


  4. Michael Spitale, 13 April 2012 14:38

    I am stunned at all the crying over Bahrain. We race in China who has a 2 million page history book of treating their people horrible. We race in India, where right outside the gates of the track is some of the highest poverty on earth and they threw thousands of people off that land to build their track. Brazil is dangerous for F1 in the best of times the criminal activity is SKY HIGH.

    You are being hypocrits for complaining about Bahrain and not other countries we race in as well…. Bernie sold his soul for money from these countries years ago.

  5. Ed Foster, 13 April 2012 14:41

    I understand your position Michael, but there have been such direct threats to the F1 race in Bahrain that I think it is putting itself in an impossible position by going there.

  6. Ray T, 13 April 2012 16:28

    Michael is right, the recent atrocities of Western alliances in the middle east far out weigh what is going on in Bahrain, yet we call the kettle black. The important difference here is that the world’s eyes will be on Bahrain for three days, and disruption of this race is certainly a goal of the people to get the world’s attention.
    Unfortunately, this race will likely take place, and very likely will lead to a disaster that will end the rein of Bernie Ecclestone, because the results will sit directly on his shoulders. He’s initiating a huge precipitating event, with plenty of planning time.

    I won’t watch it. the TV fans have the ultimate power in F1, and honestly, we need to start asserting ourselves for the sake of the sport, because the sport is the last thing on the minds of CVC.

  7. Lewis Lane, 13 April 2012 17:10

    Personally i’m not happy about several of the places the sport goes to. Yes, there are very few places you could hold a race that are squeaky clean and aren’t subject to some kind of controversy, yet F1 still goes there (and there are more of these countries mooted, e.g Russia) without a murmer. It strikes me from the reports, that this situation is different, however, in that the event itself could be the subject of protests in which there is potential (and in advance it’s impossible to classify it as more than that) for lives to be endangered, and that risk alone should be enough for this to be called off. I’d hate to get a “wise after the event situation”.

  8. David H, 13 April 2012 18:33

    Like to second Lewis’s comment above. Joe Saward’s blog pointed out a couple of weeks ago that the recognized int’l human rights groups were not invited to verify what the govt.’says has taken place since last year but they invite F1. It has become politicized, Bahrain is using F1. Simply the risk of violence to citizens (and others of course) is more if the race takes place. Follow the money, as the saying goes…

  9. Adrian Muldrew, 13 April 2012 22:19

    Ed, when it comes to the Bahrainis’ stake in things, you omit to mention the most glaring fact of all. The ART team is co-owned by the Crown Prince of Bahrain and Nicolas Todt, the son of Jean Todt himself. No wonder Todt has been keeping his head down. Permit a potential conflict of interest on that scale and one flirts with real danger should problems arise. It’s no good asking how were the Todts to predict what would happen in Bahrain, when the partnership was forged. For one thing, absolutely nothing should be left open to chance in modern sports administration. For another thing, and more tellingly still, they have had a year to extricate themselves from the relationship since the debacle over the 2011 race, yet here we go again. That they did nothing tells us all we need to know about Todt’s desire for objectivity. His performance last year on this issue, in trying to defend the indefensible, was a public relations disaster for the sport, nothing short of a laughingstock, from the “show of hands” farce, to the Gracia “I no speak English” report, to the refusal to be seen to take a definitive decision. It beggars belief that they’ve gone and done it again. How can a so-called professional organisation like the FIA sit on its hands until there’s just a week to go before the event in question, with the teams already on the other side of the world from their bases? Maybe the criticism of Bahrain is fair, maybe it’s not – I don’t know. I just know that Todt’s clowns have made my sport look cowardly, risible and amoral on the same issue for the second time in twelve months.

  10. Rod Warneke, 14 April 2012 09:50

    If you have read ‘No Angel’:….. you will probably find the answer? Remember South Africa in the early eighties?

  11. Carlos Sanchez, 14 April 2012 12:10

    Gee!… Kudos to Adrian, that’s a class act of an observation!

  12. CC, 14 April 2012 21:26

    To Adrian – Great Post!

  13. Tony Geran, 15 April 2012 23:53

    Adrian, You say the FIA is professional? I’ve heard it called many things but never professional. This decision is scandalous. Perhaps Bernie is going to achieve his dream of having no spectators at the track. This event could only go ahead in a lock down. Interesting over the weekend no team would talk on the record about going to Bahrain. The security industry must be rubbing its hands in anticipation of the money it is going to make over the next week.

  14. Adrian Muldrew, 16 April 2012 09:18

    Tony, that’s a pretty unfair misquote! I most certainly did not say the FIA was professional; my exact phrase was “so-called professional”. I doubt many people on the Place de la Concorde are working for peanuts, after all. Don’t you? That was kind of my point. Ho-hum…

  15. john aston, 18 April 2012 06:38

    It is a disgrace, pure and simple that F1 is going to go this country. It’s a disgrace that the sole criterion which FIA applied in deciding to attend was the safety of the teams .I had doubts about China- still do – but Bahrain has just exposed F1 as an international sport and I am saddened at the depths to which my sport has plummeted. Shame on Ecclestone, Todt and their friends. And no, I won’t be watching it on TV…

  16. Andy D, 18 April 2012 11:25

    Appalling decision but no surprise. If we are waiting for Ecclestone, Todt and Prince Salman to act with morality, we’ll be waiting a long time.

  17. Mark D, 20 April 2012 13:27

    Despite drivers and teams coming out with “we are here to race” and “it’s nothing to do with F1″ why haven’t the mainstream press picked up on the “UNIF1ED” campaign being run by the circuit and the Bahraini govt, see the BBC interview with Zayani wearing a baseball cap to that effect, which DOES politicise the sport. It also breaks the FIA’s own rules with regard to using F1 as a political tool, a point made in a recent blog. Yet no one within the sport at the sharp end has the balls to stand up and say why is the sport being used to show “unity” in a country when there plainly isn’t. If it wasn’t for this UNIF1ED campaign, the sport might have a point in terms of doing the race for the race’s sake, in my eyes it is now firmly in the centre of the storm. This is F1 though; it has demonstrated that it has no morals, and that ultimately it is all about the money. Bahrain is first and foremost a commercial exercise for F1 and a PR sticking plaster for the Bahraini govt at the expense of a nation whose population, with some paying the ultimate price, would like to see democratic change.

  18. Adrian Muldrew, 20 April 2012 14:39

    Excellent post, Mark D.
    I see Bernie has managed to plumb new depths today, telling journalists “You guys love (the Bahrain controversy). What we really need is an earthquake or something like that, so you can write about that now.”
    At a time when the media is already focused on the sport for all the wrong reasons, it’s scarcely credible that Mr Ecclestone could say that he’d welcome a natural disaster. No doubt it was tongue in cheek, but that is no defence. He is long enough in the tooth to know that such ostensibly sick comments are dynamite in the hands of the press – indeed, the great irony is that he made the remarks whilst in the very process of bemoaning that the press likes to inflate stories.
    One often hears that, despite his alleged faults, Bernie loves the sport above all, but, reading about incidents like this, one really has to wonder. I see that the earthquake comment is already getting headline status at a time when F1 least needs it. With sincere respect to a man who clearly has many accomplishments to his name, I would point out that even Midas lost the Midas touch in the end, and when he gets back to London Mr E should quietly reflect upon the direction in which the sport’s public relations are currently headed, because it may not be to the end of the rainbow.

  19. Mike, 21 April 2012 00:00

    I will not watch this race, and perhaps any others, until they permanently cancel the Bahrain GP. Ecclestone should go as well. GP is a supporter of a corrupt and abusive regime.

  20. Martin B, 21 April 2012 11:40

    “Meanwhile, the daughter of political and human rights activist Abdul al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for 70 days, was briefly detained when she went to see him in hospital, Nabeel Rajab said. She was not allowed to see her father.”

    Above from BBC website 21st April. Also reports of a dead protestor.

    Well done Ed Foster and Motor Sport for being against Bahrain GP 2012 going ahead. I have followed F1 for over 50 years but have no interest in this race – the “circus” should have stayed away this year.

  21. Mark D, 21 April 2012 14:44

    If anything this race has backfired for the Bahraini’s, it has been a PR disaster, and shown the country for what it is rather than for what and they would like the world to see. Kudos to those in the F1 media who remembered that they are journalists first and foremost. The political standpoint from the western politicians, those in power at least, i.e. fence sitting, is also interesting given the strategic position Bahrain holds in military terms and its proximity to other “difficult” countries in the middle east. Peel back the layers beyond F1 and its more interwined than you at first release.

  22. Adrian Muldrew, 21 April 2012 16:19

    Yesterday it was Ecclestone’s turn as stand-up comedian in front of the world’s media; today it is the turn of the Bahraini royal family’s version of Comical Ali, Jean Todt himself.
    He rejected criticism that F1 has allowed itself to be used politically by Bahrain’s “UniF1ed” propaganda campaign, by saying he wants “to be away from any political consideration – because it is not the job of the FIA.” Not a stance that I would judge to be always realistic, certainly not in this case, but an honourable stance if sincerely held. However, Todt holds it so sincerely that at the same press call (for “selected journalists”, note) he rubbished the estimated numbers at yesterday’s protest rally, and the associated allegations of police beatings (including an alleged fatality), with this ludicrous observation:
    “I was not there, I did not count the people (good job, given his previous well-documented difficulties when it comes to counting people on matters Bahraini) and I was told by official sources that it was 4,000 people protesting quite quietly, and only three people were slightly hurt out of that.”
    Think about that. Todt says he wants to “be away from any political consideration” but in his next breath wades straight into the politics by parroting the line of “official sources”.
    Yet again, quite staggering incompetence from Mr Todt at best, quite shameful cynicism from him at worst. Or both.
    His state of denial, in the face of quite appalling headlines for F1 this afternoon, is a PR calamity, but his son’s business partner, the Bahraini Crown Prince, will be delighted.

  23. Adrian Muldrew, 21 April 2012 17:02

    I can’t let today’s other gem from Todt pass without comment.
    He told the press that he “saw some fantastic quotes from Nelson Mandela talking about how good is the sport to cure problems around the world.”
    Well, yes, Mandela said a lot of things like that, during and since his time as leader of a country which had come through an horrific period in its own history to stage joyful world cup tournaments for rugby, cricket and football.
    But Mandela certainly wasn’t saying such things from his prison cell, while rebel cricket and rugby teams were defying the international sporting boycott amidst similar scenes of unrest. More pertinently to F1, I very much doubt he was saying it from his prison cell when the 1985 South African GP took place, just a few months after the Langa massacre.
    Mandela was a key proponent of the sports boycott, for example saying in a smuggled note in 1970 that “every effort to isolate South Africa adds strength to our struggle”.
    There may be those reading this who disagreed with that boycott. Fair enough, but for Todt to use the words of Nelson Mandela, of all people, to justify a sporting event that has provoked the same sort of debate, is not only deeply cynical, but also quite inane, and it invites yet more derision.

  24. Mark D, 22 April 2012 17:05

    The sad thing for the Bahraini’s is that this will now be yesterday’s news as the media move on to other stories, only to be resurrected yet again when we get around to the 2013 F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain for a repeat of the same situation. I would also bet on no lessons being learnt from within the F1 bubble. F1 will now resort to default in terms of media reporting and I am sure there will be echoes of “problems, what problems”, from the F1 heirachy. Its a sad enditement of the modern world that its driven by commercialism for the ultimate benefit of very few individuals as opposed to actually “doing whats right”, F1 being the ultimate expression of that point. As fans of the actual sport, as opposed to the politics, will we remember the last few days in a few months or so, or will we serve to fuel F1 and all that goes with it without asking or seeking change which made the 2012 Bahrain GP a race too far in terms of being made a political tool and not a sport as it should be.

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