Hosting of Bahrain GP backfires on Formula One

An incident free Bahrain Grand Prix was just what the country's rulers and Formula One had wanted. But they paid a heavy price for holding the race.

Updated: April 27, 2012 11:32 IST
  • Total Shares

Dubai: An incident free Bahrain Grand Prix was just what the country's rulers and Formula One had wanted.

But they paid a heavy price for holding the race.

Fans are as likely to remember the huge demonstrations against the government as much as they are Sebastian Vettel's first victory of the season on Sunday.

"The strategy of pretending that Bahrainis don't have legitimate criticisms of their government has completely backfired on Formula One organizers and Bahraini government officials," Amnesty International's Sanjeev Bery said.

"It is one thing to hold an event," he said. "It is another thing entirely to actively pretend that the host government has committed no human rights violations, when facts on the ground reveal otherwise."

The decision by Formula One to go ahead with the race wasn't surprising, given the sport has history of ignoring the political realities in some countries where it races.

Bahrain seemed to be an opportunity to change.

The race was cancelled last year due to the anti-government protests and then a bid to reschedule the race for later in 2011 was abandoned by local organizers amid increasing pressure from rights groups.

It was restored to the 2012 calendar with the hopes that reforms promised by the Sunni rulers would help end the country's political crisis. But with few signs the leadership was giving the Shiite majority greater political power, rights groups called for the race to be cancelled.

But in stepped Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, who declared Bahrain safe to race despite ongoing clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters that have left at least 50 dead. He claimed to be unaware of any trouble in the Gulf country.

Teams and race fans were greeted with huge protests and heavy security. A cultural exhibit set up to promote the race was also targeted by protesters, sending visitors scurrying for cover.

"As you saw, there was a very negative reaction to the glib responses from Formula One and the drivers in terms of the human right concerns," said Christopher L. Avery, the director of the London-based Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. "When future races come along in Bahrain and if the human rights situation is not improved, the controversy will certainly happen all over again. I predict it will even be rougher ride for Formula One."

However, Bruce Grant-Braham, director of the Motor Sports Research Group at Bournemouth University, said Formula One probably benefited from all the controversy surrounding the race.

For the latest Sports news , like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and get the NDTV Cricket app for Android or iOS

  • Brawn
  • McLaren
  • Honda
  • Michael Schumacher
  • Giancarlo Fisichella
  • Sepang
  • Lewis Hamilton
  • Formula 1
  • Bernie Ecclestone
  • FIFA

Leave a comment