Bahrain – time for Bernie and the FIA to act?

The situation in Bahrain became more critical overnight as security forces using tanks and other military vehicles moved on the camp site set up by protesters.

The BBC reports this morning: “Hundreds of riot police using tear gas and batons moved into the square before dawn on Thursday. At least two people died in the police operation, according to the opposition, while 100 sustained injuries.”

The BBC’s Ian Pannell added that “the brutal response of the authorities makes it clear that the ruling family saw this as a threat to its grip on power.”

CNN reports: “Police were able to clear the roundabout of thousands of protesters and hours after that, convoys more than 50 military armoured personnel carriers each armed with machine guns drove into the area. Convoys included trucks carrying razor wire.”

Time magazine says: “Hours after police retook control of the plaza, the tiny island nation was in lockdown mode. Tanks and armored personnel carriers were seen in some areas — the first sign of military involvement in the crisis. Police checkpoints were set up along main roadways and armed patrols moved through neighborhoods in an apparent attempt to thwart any mass gatherings.”

A leading UN official has this morning urged the authorities to show restraint.

“I urge the authorities to immediately cease the use of disproportionate force against peaceful protestors and to release all peaceful demonstrators who have been arrested,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

“Too many peaceful protesters have recently been killed across the Middle East and North Africa. Authorities everywhere must scrupulously avoid excessive use of force, which is strictly forbidden in international law. They must conduct prompt, impartial and transparent investigations where there have been breaches of this obligation.”

The latest news has inevitably increased fears for the safety of F1 personnel. With pre-race testing starting on March 3 hundreds of F1 team members are due to be in the country for two weeks, with some arriving several days before the test.

GP2 teams are already in the country for the Asian series event, with action due to start today.

It remains to be seen whether Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA are willing to make a timely call on whether it is appropriate for the race to go ahead as planned, with the eyes of the world already on the country.

The test means that the decision will have to be made within the next week, before team personnel and the cars fly to Bahrain.

It’s clear that the Grand Prix could become a point of focus for protesters, as it is the country’s most prestigious international event and is a pet project of the ruling family. Indeed it’s possible that the government will insist on the Grand Prix going ahead at all costs in an attempt to show the world that all is well.

However, even if there is security in and around the track, just moving around the rest of the country will be a stressful undertaking for visitors. Team bosses and media organisations may now be reluctant to take responsibility for sending their employees to the country.

The safety risks aside, there is now the separate question of whether F1 should be seen to be taking a “business as usual” approach and heading to Bahrain as if nothing has happened. Sponsors may also be getting itchy feet about associating their brands with such a hot political climate.

If the race does take place, the situation is certain to have an effect on the attendance both of sponsor guests and spectators, with ex-pats and locals from elsewhere in the region normally making up a large part of the crowd.

It’s been reported that even citizens of neighbouring Saudi Arabia have already cut back on visits. Saudi businessman Ahmed Ibrahim told the Gulf Daily News: “I refuse to go to Bahrain because of the protests. I worry the situation may go out of control and it will not be good for non-Bahrainis to be present.”


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15 responses to “Bahrain – time for Bernie and the FIA to act?

  1. Rae

    Surely it would be very irresponsible for the race to go ahead now? Even if it was safe (which is starting to look very dubious), there is a strong danger that the powers in charge could hijack the event for political reasons. Its a great shame, but I can’t see any way that testing and the race can take place now.

  2. Leigh O'Gorman

    Hi Adam,
    The GP2 organisers have just released a statement moving all track activity tomorrow instead.
    As well as the potential danger during these protests in Bahrain, I gather there is severely reduced or no medics at the circuit. If this were the case for the Grand Prix (assuming the race still goes ahead), would Bernie (et al) be able to bring in medics from abroad or do on site medical personal need to be verified in Bahrain?

  3. Ed

    I agree, the government will be desperate for the race to go ahead. Therefore, I think the best compromise is to postpone the race rather than cancelling it and placing it either after Shanghai or before/after Abu Dhabi.

    The test can be moved to Abu Dhabi (would allow wet tyre testing), Dubai or, preferably, Algarve.

  4. ino

    What do you think the alternative will be if the race doesn’t go ahead? No race? Go somewhere else?

  5. Jason C

    F1 doesn’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to calls like this. I expect them to try and go ahead with the race unless the situation becomes absolutely impossible. And I’ll watch the race.

    But, I also feel that they shouldn’t go ahead with it. But then, they have a race in China, don’t they, and they’re not exactly the staunchest bastions of freedom.

    • I don’t think you can male any comparisons with China – we all know that there are ‘issues’ there but it was OK for the IOC. This is about fighting on the streets and a situation that is clearly out of control.

      • Jason C

        Well, indeed, and I don’t think the IOC should have gone there, either.

        Clearly when there’s civil disorder there is a pressing issue of safety for all the staff and guests at an event, of course, and no-one wants anyone to get hurt just for a race. But really, that’s a side issue – an ‘operational’ issue, if you like. The situation can be assessed and the event cancelled if it seems like the risk is excessive. I think the real issue though is F1 going to places that it perhaps should not. I’m not saying we should only have Grands Prix in Sweden, but I think going to the likes of China and (it appears) Bahrain should be reconsidered.

        And that’s one of the hugely long list of reasons why I’m not in charge of F1.

    • bem

      Jason, be careful what you wish for you might get it. It’s pretty easy to dig enough dirt on any country to make a case for F1 not going there, yes even Sweden. And if you’re going to target China, you might as well target USA as well. In the past decade they have just as bad or worse a record than China as far as human rights.

      But then, it’s not F1’s place to impose their political views on sovereign countries. F1 is all about money and marketing and they will and should go anywhere they please, as long as it is safe to do so.

      And don’t get me going on IOC. They took an event that was based on pure amateur athletism and turned it into a political, money-centric, litigious monstrosity. Hardly the role model to follow for international sporting events.

      Having said that, i’d love to see the FIA and F1 break the recent trend of organizations trying to spin everything into a good light. If the situation doesn’t improve, they should just say “well we tried our best, didn’t work, we’ll cancel the tests and the GP for this year, regroup and try again next year.”

      • Michael Bicak

        U said: “F1 is all about money and marketing and they will and should go anywhere they please, as long as it is safe to do so.”

        How many roads of commerce have been paved over the aspirations and, literally, the bodies of people supporting freedom and fairness? Sometimes doing the right thing must take precedence over what one has the right to do.

  6. Adam

    Definitely time for the FIA & Bernie to act. As a follower of this blog (a rare thing in F1 – informed, independent & insightful) and a passionate F1 fan, I hope that someone of influence has the balls to make the right call. F1 has been criticised over the years – and we have all defended it – for putting commercial dealings ahead of all else. While the safety of F1 personnel will obviously be of concern to the teams and FIA, surely this situation is bigger than F1? We are faced with world changing events that will affect us all for years to come. If the FIA or Bernie, whoever it is that makes these decisions, decrees that the Bahrain test & GP go ahead , it will be perceived as an endorsement for the Government that has cracked down on its own people so brutally this morning. Is this how F1 wants to be perceived? I hope not. Should the situation continue to deteriorate I can picture a scenario where the FIA delay or do not take action, but the drivers do take action. Bernie, if you are reading, you must have a ‘force majeure’ clause in that contract. I think this qualifies.

  7. Ben G

    F1 – takes you to countries where they shoot people.

    Not a good logo, is it?

  8. Benny Wong

    I can’t help to ask a question : Why F1 should only go to the so-called “staunchest bastions of freedom” . According to this rule, F1 should never go to the Middle East (UAE included)

    If you say F1 should not go to places with “civil disorders”, the races in Turkey / India / Brazil should be cancelled as well. Did you remember Jenson Button’s incident last year?

    As a Chinese I’m disappointed to read such irresponsible comments targeting China only.

  9. russ mckennett

    “you might as well target USA as well. In the past decade they have just as bad or worse a record than China as far as human rights.”
    Bem…where do you live?
    and stfu.

  10. I agree with most that F1 should probably cancel the event this year. Or at least push it back on the schedule. Helping prop up a regime that kills it’s own peaceful protesters is not exactly a great idea.

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