The debate over the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix has been rekindled just weeks before the race is due to take place.
Formula One decided not to visit the nation in 2011 due to political and sectarian unrest. Large sections of the majority Shia population took part in pro-democracy demonstrations that were suppressed by the ruling Sunni regime at the height of the Arab Spring. At least 35 people died.
But while the cameras and attention may have largely moved on, the protests haven’t disappeared. And, despite the intention of Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone to take the teams there for the April 22 race, there does seem to be a growing tide of discomfort at the idea.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
April’s issue of Formula One magazine ran a poll in which 60 percent of 10,000 respondents answered that it wasn’t right to hold the race, with just 24 percent saying that it was.
Damon Hill, 1996 World Champion and now prominent TV commentator, has also weighed in with his concerns.
“What we must put above all else is what will be the penalty in terms of human cost if the race goes ahead,” Hill 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 isn’t 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.”
“Formula One can’t put its head in the sand concerning the Bahrain Grand Prix, because it is a very volatile situation out there.
“The recent meeting to garner support for the race as a unifying event was troubling insofar as it tried to represent the rioting in Bahrain as the result of bad press reporting and as a ‘youth’ issue… you don’t get 100,000 people risking their lives in protest for nothing.”
The meeting Hill was referring to was held in London in late March by organizers of the race.
“You will come out and you will see,” circuit chairman Zayed R Alzayani told reporters at that gathering. “It’s business as usual. There are some clashes with police, isolated in villages. Some of these clashes are very small – 10 or 15 people – but it gets blown out of proportion and made to sound as if the whole nation is rising up.”
While protestors in Bahrain are unlikely to welcome the race, they may take the opportunity to show the world that the nation is far from united in front of a large gathering of international media.
Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said: “[F1] is helping dictators and we are going to protest…We are going to use the opportunities that a lot of journalists are there and we are going to protest everywhere.”
At the moment, the race is on and will continue to be so if the comments of Ecclestone are anything to go by.
“Seriously, the press should just be quiet and deal with the facts rather than make up stories.”