As part of our ongoing coverage of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, we wanted to address ongoing human rights concerns in the country in the context of the sporting world, specifically Formula One. We previously posted an AT ISSUE debate on Bahrain in November entitled Bahrain’s Pearl Protesters – What Do They Really Want? It’s definitely worth a read or re-read, especially the comments.
AT ISSUE: Does Bahrain Deserve To Get The Formula One Grand Prix Back?
The Bahrain Grand Prix was scheduled to be the opening race of the 2011 Formula One season. However, the race was postponed and later canceled because of civil unrest and because – as Sakhir Circuit Chairman Zayed Alzayani said at the time – it would cause “an unreasonable degree of disruption and cost.” The Bahrainis also paid around $39 million in hosting fees for last year’s race, and refused a refund from F1′s parent company Delta Topco.
In this debate, we would like you to consider the following facts and statements.
Drivers and organizers seem unconcerned about future unrest
- Formula One Supremo Bernie Ecclestone has said he has “no doubt” that the Bahrain Grand Prix will take place as scheduled on April 22nd of this year. He told the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper earlier this month that “Bahrain is the country in the region where there are the fewest problems.”
- Ex- Formula One driving champion Damon Hill has said he is in favor of the race going ahead. He said this month that “a lot has changed” since last year and that F1 can go to Bahrain “with a clear conscience.”
- Bahrain race organizers said this month that the government has already acted to make sure no human rights are violated. Organizers quoted a November report which found human rights violations in the Kingdom. Race organizers also noted that the Grand Prix “forms a fundamental part of the local economy.”
- Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali says teams will have to “trust the official authorities” as far as what is going on in the country.
- Sky-TV in Britain announced that it would carry all 20 F1 races this year, including the Bahrain GP.
Activists say 2011 crackdown issues unaddressed
- The Bahrain Center for Human Rights – and particularly its chief Nabeel Rajab – say that abuses continue and staging the race would be a band-aid over the problem. Rajab was quoted as saying “The government wants Formula One to tell the outside world that everything is back to normal. . . Formula One, if they come, they are helping the government to say [it is normal] We would prefer it if they didn’t take part.
- Mariwan Hama-Saeed of Human Rights Watch said F1 should rethink the Sakhir race. “I doubt that Formula One can be a success in a country where serious human rights abuses have been committed,” he said.
- Amnesty International has called for Bahrain to investigate more than a dozen deaths attributed to misuse of tear gas by security forces.
- Several Bahraini athletes – including basketball player Sale Mahdi, Drag Race champion Mohamed AlKhunaizi, and racing Marshall Sayed Hadi Nasser Alawi, who was sentenced to life in prison for murder and illegal gathering — remain in jail.
-This month, the Bahrain circuit said it would welcome back all 29 people fired last year because they took part in anti-government protests. However, media reports from the Island kingdom say only three of those employees have returned to work with some refusing the terms offered by the Bahrain International Circuit. The Bahrain ministry of labor has intervened on the employees’ behalf.
Protesters may re-energize, lots of money at stake
- Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat is a major shareholder in the McLaren racing team. Last year, several sponsors – including engine supplier Mercedes and tiremaker Pirelli – were not happy with missing the race. If Mercedes decides not to go this year, several teams could lose their engines and if Pirelli boycotts the race, no one can run. Sponsors don’t like their names associated with reported human rights abuses.
-The race is tied to the Bahraini Royal family, particularly to the Crown Prince, who is a huge F1 fan.
So what do you think? Does Bahrain deserve the chance to host a Formula One race in April? Please take part in our poll and add further facts and comments in the comment field below.
David Byrd is a journalist, writer, video editor and photographer. He is also the host of VOA's American Cafe, a weekly show covering life and culture in the United States.