Human Rights Protests Threaten Bahrain Grand Prix 2012
Is Bernie Ecclestone, the CEO of Formula 1, the stupidest, most insensitive guy in the world? Or is he just blinded by cash? How can he even think of running a Grand Prix with people being killed in the streets of Bahrain?
Formula 1 has always been much bigger in Europe than it has in America and Bahrain is on the other side of the world, so there is a chance you have no idea what's happening on the eve of the Grand Prix in this small kingdom on the Persian Gulf.
Basically, anti-government protesters have been pouring into the streets all week while security forces fire tear gas into crowd. Meanwhile the country's leaders are struggling to contain opposition anger ahead of Sunday's Formula 1 race.
Qualifying during the Formula 1, Grand Prix of Bahrain, Credit Image: © Action Press/ZUMAPRESS.com
The drama reached new heights this weekend as police fought battles with pro-democracy supporters who were demonstrating just a few miles from where Formula 1 practice laps were taking place. Not surprisingly, the decision to go ahead with the Grand Prix has come under extreme criticism.
Asked whether the race should be cancelled at the 11th hour in the wake of incidents involving personnel from Force India and Sauber, the Crown Prince said: “Cancelling the race just empowers extremists.” Some might beg to differ. In any case, Friday’s demonstration was merely the opening shot in a “weekend of rage” to protest against the decision to hold the race.
Force India missed an afternoon's practice session in order to leave the circuit before dark. The news comes in the wake of an incident Wednesday night which saw a rental car carrying four of the team's mechanics caught up in local rioting. Two team members, one of whom was in the car at the time, flew home after Molotov cocktails and tear gas canisters landed in the vicinity of their 4x4 and they had to escape through a gap in the flames.
The conflict is not new; in fact it's been going on for centuries, but activists have been galvanized by the Arab spring. The protestors are well aware that nearly 600 million people watch Formula 1 worldwide and it's a great opportunity to get their message across.
Last year, a wave of anti-government protests by the island's Shiite majority and a crackdown by the Sunni rulers forced organizers to cancel the 2011 Bahrain GP.
Despite the turmoil in Bahrain, it appears Ecclestone & Co will allow Sunday's race to go on. Although government intervention is rarely a good idea, in this instance it may be the right thing to cancel the race and persuade the teams to go home.
The Western-backed Bahraini regime may want to project an image of 'business as usual' and with F1 endorsing the country by hosting a race there, the human rights issues seem to be pushed aside. It's about time that the sport, its sponsors and followers took a stand against oppression and send a message to the Bahraini regime that human rights matter.
Since it doesn't appear that will happen, at this point, all we can hope for is that everyone makes it through the weekend safely.