Feb
13

Anniversary of Bahrain uprising worries Formula One

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• Bahrain Grand Prix due to take place on 22 April
• Tuesday marks one year from ‘Day of Rage’ in Bahrain

The worried world of Formula One will be concentrating its attention on events in Bahrain on Tuesday as the country marks the anniversary of its “Day of Rage”, which last year led to the grand prix there being postponed twice and ultimately cancelled.

Unrest has continued ever since but this year’s race remains on the F1 calendar and is due to take place on 22 April. If the violence escalates, however, and activists are fully aware of the importance of Tuesday and the coming weeks, the viability of the event will once again dominate the sport’s agenda.

Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, is keeping a low profile because it doesn’t want to be part of the mounting pressure and speculation. But the president, Jean Todt, visited the country following the Indian Grand Prix at the end of October and the organisation has been monitoring events on a daily basis ever since, while maintaining a dialogue with diplomats and organisers.

The race decision will be taken by the sport’s commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, together with the controversial Bahrain government. And the basis of the discussions will be safety issues.

The official line is that the teams and sponsors will follow that decision. But, privately, a number of team representatives have talked about their concerns and in Jerez, where the first testing programme of the new season took place last week, there was talk of Bahrain being replaced on the schedule by Turkey, which dropped off the list at the end of last year.

Sponsors, meanwhile, are worried about the potential fallout of staging a disrupted race in a country where the Gulf state’s ruling royal family and pro-democracy activists are still so far from reconciling their many differences.

There was disquiet in Jerez amid reports that a British man, Peter Morrissey, was attacked by a masked gang in Karranah and had two fingers severed by a sword, as well as suffering cuts and broken ribs.

At the same time seven peers and the Green party MP Caroline Lucas had a letter published in the Times calling for the race to be called off following the publication of an independent inquiry which criticised the heavy-handed treatment of protesters by the Bahrain regime.

The peers’ letter read: “We note with concern the decision by Formula One to go ahead with the race in Bahrain scheduled for April.

“The continued political crisis in Bahrain is a troubling source of instability in the Gulf region, and the lack of any move towards political reconciliation concerns those who wish to see Bahrain move in the direction of greater democratic accountability.

“It was hoped the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) would provide a starting point for political reform which both government and opposition forces could agree upon.

“However, two months on we see an entrenchment of the positions of both sides which risks letting more extreme voices dictate the progress of the conflict.

“Given the current dire situation, with daily street protests and the deaths of more civilians, we do not believe that the time is right for Formula One to return to Bahrain.”

The Bahrain government points out that concessions have been made. But the country has to prove it is stable before the race goes ahead. And events today may persuade many people that that is not the case.

Paul Weaver

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