Formula One: The Bahrain Grand Prix Is An Accident Waiting To Happen

A member of the Force India team has returned home after being fire-bombed in Bahrain, but people have been missing the point in their arguments against holding the GP there. Here's the real reason why the event is a disgrace....
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A member of the Force India team has returned home after being fire-bombed in Bahrain, but people have been missing the point in their arguments against holding the GP there. Here's the real reason why the event is a disgrace....

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So, this weekend Formula One heads to Bahrain for round four of the 2012 season and possibly the most ill-advised decision in the sport’s history.

Much of the debate about this race has centred around the fact that Formula One shouldn’t be going to a country with a human rights record like Bahrain, but I feel like this is missing the point. If you want to claim that F1 (or international sport in general) shouldn’t take place in countries with poor human rights records (past or present) then you could pretty successfully argue that no world championship competition should ever take place in any country, ever again. Britain, the US, Germany, Japan, China… every country has a rotting body in its closet. But should that mean that its people are denied the chance to enjoy (and I’m sure they do enjoy) an international event? Anyway, I digress.

The issue with the Bahrain Grand Prix is not, as far as I’m concerned, specifically to do with the human rights record of the country. The issue is that when the race was postponed and then, later, cancelled in 2011 it was done so with the understanding that Formula One would come back to Bahrain when ‘stability had returned’; a position of such incredible stupidity that you have to believe even George Dubya Bush would have put palm to face.

The issue with the Bahrain Grand Prix is not, as far as I’m concerned, specifically to do with the human rights record of the country. The issue is that when the race was postponed and then, later, cancelled in 2011 it was done so with the understanding that Formula One would come back to Bahrain

By making this assertion Formula One has, as far as I’m concerned, made itself complicit in whatever the condition the people of Bahrain find themselves in when F1 revisits Bahrain and has offered its approval to whatever methods the government used to create a political and civic climate under which Formula One felt it was safe to return.

The live race, broadcast around the world and watched by hundreds of millions of people. As platforms for protest go, it doesn’t get much better than an international sporting event

Now, I don’t want to suggest that anything that is going on in Bahrain at the moment has anything to do with Formula One specifically. But, given that the government is using the slogan ‘UniF1ed’ on the promotional material for the race it would appear that it is using the sport… actually, let me rephrase that: the governing body of Formula One, the FIA, and its commercial rights holder are allowing F1 to be used as a way of demonstrating that Bahrain is on the road to recovery, which is morally objectionable, because it’s a blatant lie. According to Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, “[Amnesty] continues to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests”, and a recent operation by the country’s security forces against unarmed protesters left 35 people dead. Five of those deaths were the result of later torture in custody.

Both these things are, apparently, fine by Formula One. They said it would return when things were back to normal, these are the methods being used to get the country ‘back to normal’, Formula One is returning, therefore the FIA doesn’t object. Therefore, the FIA approves.

We then find ourselves at the issue of the danger faced by the teams, drivers and race personnel who are already in the country and, more worryingly, the willingness of the sport and, therefore, their employers to put them in that dangerous position. No, of course nothing is going to happen this week, but what about the race on Sunday? The live race, broadcast around the world and watched by hundreds of millions of people. As platforms for protest go, it doesn’t get much better than an international sporting event.

Formula One, like any sport, is chock full of nasty people and in possession of a moral compass so badly broken that the wreckage just looks like someone’s kicked a scrap yard through a plate glass window

With that in mind, there’s no getting away from the fact that Bernie has, quite cheerily, painted a target on the F1 paddock’s back and nipped down to the bank to cash the $40m cheque he’ll receive for the race going ahead. He’s claimed that it’s safe for the race to go ahead but he’s not going to be there (the coward) and Bernie doesn’t really care if it’s actually safe, so long as someone high enough up is willing to say that it is so he can absolve himself of responsibility when someone throws a petrol bomb at the grid on Sunday evening.

Formula One, like any sport, is chock full of nasty people and in possession of a moral compass so badly broken that the wreckage just looks like someone’s kicked a scrap yard through a plate glass window, but this truly is a new low. Not a single person involved has had the balls to stand up and say ‘nope, not going’. The drivers (haven’t even had the courage to) say that it’s the decision of the teams; the teams claim it’s Bernie’s decision, Bernie says it’s up to the teams, the FIA relied on and trusted the conclusions of a ‘fact-finding’ mission put together by the Bahrain ministry of culture and tourism (seriously) and so the buck continues to be passed.

The whole thing is a travesty and I suspect that if something does happen at the race, sympathetic headlines will be thin on the ground.

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