Bahrain: The Politicisation of F1

Why is Bahrain in particular such a toxic F1 divide?

Here we go again. What cannot be denied is that F1 racing in Bahrain brings about more comment and criticism from those within F1 than anywhere else we visit in the world. Why is that? Yes, it can be argued that there are worse human rights breaches in China and other countries where F1 chooses to go, so why does Bahrain attract such attention by comparison?

Part of me can’t wait until Monday when the F1 world is clear of Bahrain and any possible danger. I have many friends in the travelling circus and I am concerned for their welfare.

There have in the past few days been draconian new laws passed in Bahrain which mean anyone shouting ‘Down with Hamad’ – a popular sentiment amongst the protesters – will be imprisoned instantly for 5 years for insulting the nation’s King.

As TJ13 reported yesterday a car bomb was exploded in the financial district of Manama and this may appear to be of no real consequence except when we consider that there are educated Sunni’s on the ground suggesting this zone is heavily policed and should be bullet proof from attack.

High risk?

There have been rumours that Iran has sent high level terrorist operatives to Bahrain to better co-ordinate the protests and ensure that this year a point is properly made. The BBC are reporting a government supporter saying, “Security there [in the financial district] is tight. If they can get away with something like that I am worried something big will happen at F1.”

Such is the tension again around the F1 event this year that even the sport’s supremo has drastically changed his rhetoric.

“We don’t want to see people repressed as result of race,” said Ecclestone. “Some people feel it’s our fault there are problems.” Yet this is a facile observation because clearly people are not being repressed per se as the result of a motor race.

“We are extremely sympathetic to them,” said Ecclestone. “Don’t forget, I was the one, when we had the apartheid in South Africa, who pulled the race, so I’m the last guy to help this.

Last year, I spoke to the people that represent the protesters, and I spoke to the people we deal with in government, and it was really difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong.

You are always going to get people who are going to try and take advantage of any situation.We don’t want to see people repressed as the result of a race”, said Ecclestone. “Some people feel its our fault there are problems”.

What utter nonsense. Nobody from the protest movement believes they are repressed per se as a result of the race and they do not ascribe their problems to the existence of F1 for a weekend once a year in Bahrain.

These are weasel words because when Ecclestone visits Bahrain, his time is spent enjoying the opulent hospitality of the Royal palaces and not with those who argue they are disenfranchised.

Uncle Bernie

Ecclestone claims he has recently discussed the situation with the ruling Bahraini family and suggested they employ a ‘softer approach’ to matters. He believes they have heeded his warning and “are happy for the media to report about their country, but they don’t want it to be too one sided”.

The main argument for racing in the gulf state was always based on the fact that F1 was a-political and distanced itself from local disputes between authorities and the people. In fact this principle is enshrined in the articles and statutes of the FIA who under the leadership of Max Mosely have in the past sanctioned promoters for using F1 to advance their political views. cf. Turkey 2006.

Yet in 2012 we saw a willful alignment with the gulf state’s rulers from both the FIA and FOM. Slogans from the ruling family and race promoter’s were emblazoned around the circuit declaring the country was in fact “UniF1ed” and “back on track”. Clearly this was a gross misrepresentation of the truth.

It is this intimate association with the law makers and enforcers in Bahrain which makes the F1 Bahrain race weekend for many in the sport simply unpalatable and a collaboration with those who have the power.

A number of sponsors are again this year providing either no guest hospitality or drastically cutting back on what they would normally deliver presumably because they wish to distance themselves from the statements being made.

F1 is now political

In many ways Ecclestone has now made it worse. At least in previous years he could hide behind the ‘F1 is not a political organisation’ mantra. Yet his endeavours in 2013 – as outlined above – appear to suggest he is in fact attempting to understand the rights and wrongs of the scenario if not in fact broker some kind of understanding and ‘peace in our time’.

This years F1 slogan is less controversial than last years. “Imagine your moment”. Though to citizens of the state, being penned inside their corrugated iron shed like structure villages – surrounded by barbed wire and men with guns – this may not feel like the ‘moment of hope’ in their nation that they have been promised and can truly grasp as a sign of better times to come in the future.

As was stated here yesterday, we may struggle to determine who in fact is right and who is wrong and it is probable that we should not even attempt to give our verdict. However, we can demand a proper separation of F1 from the politics of a nation where there is a clear dispute between people and the state.

The state has said they and the people are “UniF1ed”. Myriads of Al-Khalifa’s will smile and be given public deference from our F1 leaders. They will bestow grace and favour and in return will be photographed in association with Brawn, Ecclestone, Todt, Dominicali, Bob and the rest of the Formula 1 establishment.

Maybe it is this intimate association which in the eyes of the rest of the world makes F1 look sycophantic and weak, particularly when they see presidente little Jean and his cronies fail to call the Bharaini race promoters/rulers of the state  to account for the fundamental breach of FIA article 1.

F1… still non-political?

15 responses to “Bahrain: The Politicisation of F1

  1. FOM is in a bind as they extended the race contract until 2016. I doubt Bernie wants to refund them their $100M+. Ecclestone is a scumbag and would sell his mother if the price was right, so I don’t really expect anything different from him. Where I would like to see some backbone is from the McLaren Group. Pretty hard to be objective when Mumtalakat is a minority owner of the team. Buying out their interest would send a strong message that Mclaren will act in the best interest of the team and the sport and not in the interest of a foreign despot. Had they done that it might have saved their Vodafone sponsorship.

    • Agreed 100% Cav – Sell your soul and reap the whirlwind. McLaren are actively searching for new investors (not title sponsors) but 400m is a big number to find. It has been suggested to me that the slightly strange appointment of Perez has something to do with a fundamental shuffle in the shareholding of the Mclaren group.

      Slim has said he wants to own a team. Of course he will not be able to own McLaren F1, but better to be an investor in McLaren than own HRT eh?

  2. This is the third post in which this topic has been started, i can now assume the discussion about Bahrain is taking place here?
    I’ll post my comment from yesterday again.

    “There are those who believe specialist ‘activists’ have been recruited from Iran and they will cause a more potent threat than was the case in 2012″

    That is my opinion too, i work in off-shore and have visited the region several times, most Bahraini think that Iran is behind the protests, the majority of Bahraini belong to the Shi’a branch of Islam, the Al Khalifa family, rulers of Bahrain belong to the Sunni.
    Iran is mainly Shi’a, they would like nothing more then to overthrow the Al Khalifa and install a Shi’a “government” that is Iran friendly so they can expand their influence in the region.
    It’s almost impossible to form an opinion through our Western eyes and way of thinking, Middle Eastern politics is the biggest hornets’ nest you’ll ever see

    • People can discuss what they wish – no problem there…

      I would like to hear from someone – other than me – as to why Bahrain is such a big deal when China/Malaysia et al are not.

      • Good point, i suggest F1 fans visit Tibet and than let us know if they still want to race in China.

      • re. “I would like to hear from someone – other than me – as to why Bahrain is such a big deal when China/Malaysia et al are not.”

        My two pennies worth in that regard – Bahrainies are given the space and freedom to protest, peacefully or violently. Try protesting in Malaysia or China and you will soon discover how much freedom you do have in Bahrain.

        From your article above, I gather that one reason why you are concerned about Bahrain is the the perceived threat to the safety of fans and your friends. (You say “Part of me can’t wait until Monday when the F1 world is clear of Bahrain and any possible danger. I have many friends in the travelling circus and I am concerned for their welfare.”)

        In response to that I have a question for you: Should major British sports events be cancelled – eg. the British F1 or the 2013 London Marathon? (and do you think it was safe for the 2012 Olympics to have gone ahead with thousands of British troops and RAF flying jet fighters over London?). As you may know, MI5 have rated current UK terrorist threat level as “SUBSTANTIAL”.

        • Hi P King

          In answer to your question. No – but then I do not make the case for cancelling Bahrain due to a real or perceived threat to people I know.

          Turning to your suggestion as to why Bahrain stirs up such a hornets nest amongst the F1 people and media.. “Bahrainies are given the space and freedom to protest, peacefully or violently. Try protesting in Malaysia or China and you will soon discover how much freedom you do have in Bahrain”.

          I’m not sure this sufficiently explains how otherwise rational/scientific minded individuals like Newey are so perturbed about Bahrain – when China et al does appear to bother them the same way.

          • “China et al does appear to bother them the same way.”

            I think it would bother them – if you had Tiananmen Square style demos happening once a week, once a month, or even once a year.

            Similarly, if the native indigenous peoples of Australia, Brazil, Canada, and USA were staging violent protests weekly about their subjugation by colonialists who have imposed “foreign” laws and political systems on them, and stolen their freedom and wealth, I suspect Newey might take notice of their rights too.

            Re. McLaren and Mexico oil, Williams and Venezuela oil: These are no different to Bahrain. The natives who own the oil have no democratic say on how their wealth has been appropriated by the likes Slim, or the late Chavez.
            F1 teams will gladly take money from whoever claims to have the ownership of the Dollars. In world business, you can’t afford to have ethical and moral values. If you do, your competitors will take your place and you will lose out ( just as British and American companies subjected to anti-bribery legislation are finding to their cost that their refusal to pay bribes in China, Russia, and Asian, Arabian and African countries is leading to loss of lucrative business).

  3. “peace in our time”
    Let us hope that Bernie doesn’t have to rue the day he impersonated Chamberlain… in Bahrain or anywhere else.

      • Maybe they got confused with all the issues around our great leader and peace broker (aka Bernie) confirming the 2013 calendar.

        Then there is also the Green issues that Bernie has addressed by making China and Bahrain back to back so there is no unnecessary travel. Perhaps our noble lords in parliament actually cares about the amount of CO2 the circus pumps into the air… That said, I saw Lewis was in London this morning picking Roscoe up from dog training before taking his red jet to Bahrain…

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