Tag Archives: Bahrain

Back in Bahrain…

4 Sep

It is hard to believe that it has been five months since the F1 paddock was making its controversial visit to Bahrain. The race made world headlines for all the wrong reasons, but it temporarily reminded us that Bahrain has not yet followed other countries in the MENA region on the path to democracy. Since then F1 and the mass media attention have left the Bahraini troubles behind them and moved on to other races and other stories. Meanwhile, little has changed back in Bahrain.

One of the key names the media focussed on back in April was Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a human rights protester who had embarked on a hunger strike to protest the life sentence he was given in response to his role in the 2011 protests in Bahrain (which led to the F1 race that year being cancelled). Al-Khawaja ended his hunger strike in May, and along with others had appealed his sentence.

Today, an appeals court in Bahrain ruled that the convictions  of al-Khawaja and his fellow protesters were to be upheld. You can read the story on the BBC website here.

Of particular interest is Frank Gardner’s (the BBC’s Security Correspondent) analysis of the situation: “The decision by a Bahraini civil court to uphold verdicts handed down last year by a military court on 20 activists sends a tough message to the opposition. Bahrain’s government and ruling family have now drawn a red line on how far they are prepared to compromise. There had been speculation, following King Hamad’s visit to the UK last month, that serious dialogue could resume between the Sunni monarchy and the Shia-dominated opposition. That dialogue has not progressed and now these verdicts will delight hardliners in the government camp and depress moderates in the opposition. Despite numerous reforms, Bahrain is still being criticised for its human rights record.”

It is hard to predict how things will now progress (if at all) in Bahrain, but if the government are going to take a tougher position with pro-democracy campaigners,  progress is likely to stagnate further and F1 cannot expect to find an improved, let alone resolved, situation when they return in 2013. The event will again be a chance for campaigners to (rightly, IMHO) capitalise on the publicity the race attracts and remind the world again of their cause.

The 2013 provisional F1 calendar has not yet been released, but when it is there is little doubt that Bahrain will feature on it as the circuit still has a contract with Bernie Ecclestone. When the calendar appears, F1 will once again face its moral dilemma over Bahrain. After the tensions witnessed in 2012 (and the negative press) teams will be again be reluctant to return if tensions are still high, but of course they will be contractually obliged to go.

The 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix’s controversial slogan.

The best F1 can hope for is that organisers do not try to exploit the race for international political gain as they did in 2012 with the farcical ‘UniF1ed’ slogan. Another heavily politicised race can only be bad news for the sport. We shall have to wait and see how things unfold in the next six months.

Images from Bahrain

7 Apr

Apologies if I’m becoming a Bahrain bore, but as I’m sure you can tell, this is something I feel very strongly about.

I just read Tom Cary’s latest article in the Telegraph about Bahrain and was struck by the image at the top of the article of the graffiti. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/motorsport/formulaone/9191913/Pressure-mounts-on-FIA-to-make-final-decision-on-Bahrain-Grand-Prix.html

A great deal of what we’re hearing about Bahrain at the moment is words; is it safe to go or isn’t? I am a great believer in the power of images to tell a story. I am sharing with you here what I have found via google, and there are plenty more images besides these if you look online.

I was tempted to include some more imagery of how protesters are being treated, but I don’t know all of my audience and I don’t want to publish anything distressing on here. If you do, however, want to see for yourself what is going on, then I recommend looking at the images here: http://www.rightnow.io/breaking-news/bahrainkidabuse_bn_1332356703597.html

The F1 related images follow here. I haven’t added captions as I think they speak for themselves. Images were sourced from: http://www.rightnow.io; Project Aldawar and http://www.stuff.co.nz

Also here is a shot showing the scale of protests in Bahrain. There are clearly thousands of people taking to the streets. This image was posted on 24 March:

By contrast, here’s an official sign promoting the race (via http://www.idahostatesman.com) and some official images for the event (via Bahrain International Circuit):

So who thinks Bahrain is uniF1ed and ready to celebrate F1??????

Bahrain – will anyone blink?

5 Apr

There’s been a flurry of articles from the F1 media today about the ongoing situation in Bahrain. The race is only a fortnight away and as things currently stand, the F1 circus will be rolling in to Manama to race. If you’ve been following my blog then you’ll know that Bahrain is a topic I’ve written about several times, and these are my latest musings.

Hill’s rethink

Earlier in the year it was revealed that Damon Hill had gone to Bahrain on a fact-finding mission with FIA President Jean Todt in order to better understand the situation. On their return, Hill stated that as things stood it was fine for F1 to go to Bahrain. I wrote a blog at the time about these comments, and used several words to describe Hill’s comments: surprising, perplexing and foolish.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Hill has reconsidered his stance on Bahrain stating that “Things are different now. The protests have not abated and may even have become more determined and calculated. It is a worrying state of affairs.” I have a huge amount of respect for Damon Hill, but I stand by the words I used back in January to describe his earlier comments – things aren’t really different from when he visited the country, but there is greater visibility of the ongoing issues compared to what I assume was a government-arranged visit where Hill and Todt will have been shown what the authorities wanted them to see. It certainly seems as if the wool was pulled over their eyes, and Hill wasn’t (at least publicly) cynical enough to see through it.

I’d have liked to have seen Damon Hill make an equally bold statement this week calling for the race to be called off, but he has only urged the FIA to consider the situation carefully. As a pundit working for Sky Sports F1 he will need to choose his words carefully but if he feels more strongly then he should say what he thinks.

If anybody within F1 is going to stick their head above the parapet and call for the race to be cancelled I’d continue to put money on Mark Webber.

The views of others

There have been various comments from across the F1 paddock about Bahrain. Drivers like Michael Schumacher have said they’re happy to race there and aren’t worried about the situation, Eddie Jordan isn’t concerned about safety and nor (obviously) is Bernie Ecclestone. I’m now going to pick a new word to describe all of them: naive (and yes it pains me to say that about Schumi). With tensions heightening the race, the hotels, the media and fans are all at risk.

Speed Channel’s F1 pit lane reporter, Will Buxton, has said that he won’t be staying in the usual media hotel or using the transport laid on for journalists as he’s concerned about it being a target. http://willthef1journo.wordpress.com/ Sensible chap.

F1 teams have been towing the line, stating that they’re happy for the race to go ahead. They are all reported to be making contingency plans for getting  staff and freight back to Europe after China rather than moving on to Bahrain, so there must be some strong hunches out there that the race won’t go ahead as any such contingency won’t be cheap.

Conspicuous in their absence of comments, however, are McLaren. I am sure this has nothing whatsoever to do with them being 30% owned by the Bahraini royal family….

The Bahrain International Circuit and race organisers are naturally continuing to promote the race, announcing today that LMFAO will be performing over the race weekend.

While we wait

Since we’re likely to be waiting a wee while longer to hear if the race will go ahead, you may wish to follow these two accounts to hear the pro-race message coming from Bahrain – always important to see what both sides are saying.

Bahrain International Circuit: @Bah_Int_Circuit

The Bahrain UniF1ed campaign: @uniF1ed

If the race does proceed

I think it goes without saying that if the race doesn’t happen, many will either secretly or not-so-secretly breathe a sigh of relief, and I hope that Bahrain will be evicted from the race calendar until the country is truly stable.

If the race *does* go ahead, I’ll be interested to watch how the teams and drivers conduct themselves in the build up to the race. In Malaysia and Australia, the teams and drivers went about their usual business – e.g. public appearances at shopping malls. None of these are likely in Bahrain as they are an invitation for potential trouble. What will be telling, however is:

  • How early drivers and other key personnel arrive in Bahrain (there’s only a few days between China and the start of the race weekend). Will they stay on in Shanghai for a few days, or have a convenient stop-over in the UAE (or elsewhere) until they need to be at the circuit on the Thursday? The rest of the teams will need to go straight to BIC to set up garages etc.
  • Who accompanies the drivers – if I had to go somewhere a bit volatile for work, I would be very reluctant to take my nearest and dearest with me if their safety would be at risk. Will drivers travel to Bahrain with a minimal bubble e.g. just their staff and not parents/WAGs?

Also telling will be the ease with which F1 journalists and photographers get in to the country. Any sign of trouble and they’ll be the first ones held up at the airport.

Will anyone blink?

All we can do now is wait to see if anyone blinks and calls off the race or refuses to participate.

I suspect if the race is called off it will be a last-minute, shambolic affair, potentially with some personnel already in the country.

I can only hope that nobody is harmed, and that cynics like myself are proved to be wrong.

 

Bahrain – Latest Thoughts

7 Feb

Since last writing about Bahrain I’ve been continuing to keep a close eye on what has been going on in the Middle East, and a story published by the Washington Post has inspired me to write about it again today.

For those who wish to read the story it can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/us-must-bring-pressure-to-bear-on-bahrain/2012/02/06/gIQA8OK7uQ_story.html, otherwise read on for a summary.

The Washington Post has criticised the US Government for an inconsistent approach to its foreign policy in the Middle East. The US Government has criticised Russia and China for blocking the United Nations Security Council taking action against Syria, where the situation is deteriorating rapidly. Russia and China have ‘interests’ in Syria so it would be inconvenient for them to agree to a motion which would upset their allies. The US Government has a major interest (and influence) in Bahrain, which serves as a regional base for the US Naval fleet. The situation in Bahrain, whilst still volatile, is not as severe as the scenes we’re currently seeing in Syria. However, if the situation in Bahrain were to deteriorate you could pretty safely bet your bottom dollar that the US would block any UN Security Council action against there – it would be far too inconvenient to upset the Bahrainis. The US State Department don’t even appear to be using their influence in Bahrain to encourage reform. It is a real shame that the leaders of the free world don’t feel compelled to use their influence in this way.

The situation in Syria continues to overshadow events in Bahrain, making the country appear relatively peaceful. This won’t be helping anyone (yours truly included) hoping to see the Bahrain race cancelled.

In the past couple of days there’s been further snippets from the F1 paddock on whether or not the F1 race should go ahead this year. Lotus F1 team chairman Gerard Lopez has said that he is happy for F1 to go to Bahrain in 2012 “if things are looking good”, and stated that “a number of guarantees have been given about how things will run”. Gerard Lopez is a close ally of Bernie Ecclestone, and given Bernie’s financial interest in the race to go ahead I am inevitably cynical about Lopez’s impartiality.

The concept of guarantees being given about how things will run while F1 is Bahrain makes me extremely uncomfortable. It is not known what these guarantees are, but I suspect they are likely to relate to two things:

  • Safety of F1 personnel – this would likely relate to the provision of security escorts for personnel moving between the circuit and their hotels.
  • Treatment of demonstrators in the build up to, and while F1 is in, Bahrain – with treatment of protesters being the prime concern of the outside world, the government would need to guarantee the FIA that no protesters would be treated ‘excessively’ by the police or other government forces, while keeping everyone safe.

The only other circuit where security has been provided to teams is in Interlagos, after the experience of Jenson Button in 2010. If security is needed then the situation isn’t truly stable and safety can’t be completely guaranteed; an argument for not attending. It is inevitable that some demonstrations will take place while F1 is in Bahrain; any attempt to prevent protests, or indeed any attempt to give an artificial image to the outside world that Bahrain isn’t cracking down on protesters, would be farcical, and again an argument for not attending. I will be interested to see if details of these guarantees emerge.

One other sound bite from Lopez was that “using a sport to provide a political message is wrong”. This is a divisive issue, and I can understand both sides of the argument. Personally, I feel that sport is an effective way of providing a political message and would support anyone who felt they could not participate in a sporting event for political reasons.

Previous high profile political messages in sport have included boycotts by certain national teams of the Olympic Games not wishing to compete against other national teams associated with something unpleasant, or the exclusion of national teams from competitions like the Rugby World Cup – in both cases, apartheid South Africa was the most significant recent example. Political messages exercised through rugby were particularly effective. There are no Bahraini’s participating in Formula 1, so we need to look at cases where boycotts have taken place in relation to the location of the event rather than the participants. South Africa is also an example of where teams have boycotted a race due to an unpleasant regime. The 1985 South African Grand Prix was boycotted by the Ligier and Renault teams, in line with French foreign policy. The Brazilian Government tried unsuccessfully to prevent Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna from racing due to sanctions they had imposed against South Africa. Likewise, there has long been a ban on many national teams playing cricket in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has been suspended from the Commonwealth and long been subject to international sanctions.

While governments, like the United States Government, continue to avoid imposing sanctions (or even commit to UN resolutions), it continues to be difficult for the FIA to justify not going to Bahrain. I think it is increasingly likely that the FIA will confirm that the race will go ahead, which will leave individual teams, drivers and suppliers to decide whether to compromise chances of glory in the championship in order ease their consciences.