Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Bahrain, 2010

Deadline day approaches for Bahrain decision

2011 Bahrain Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Bahrain, 2010

The Bahrain Motor Federation has less than a week to tell the FIA whether the Bahrain Grand Prix can go ahead this year.

If they say no it could spare the World Motor Sport Council a difficult decision.

But with the Bahrain government talking up their circuit’s chances of turning a profit this year, expect them to urge for the race to return to the calendar later this year.

Since a three-month state of emergency was declared on March 15th the government has pursued a hard line against the protesters.

Last week Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague warned: “Although the immediate situation appears calmer, there continue to be many credible reports of human rights abuses.

“The arrests of opposition figures, the reports of deaths in custody, allegations of torture and the denial of medical treatment, are extremely troubling.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to advise against “all but essential travel to Bahrain”.

Amnesty International sent a delegation to the country earlier this month and its report on conditions in the country makes for disturbing reading:

More than 500 people have been arrested in the last month. The overwhelming majority are Shi?a Muslims who were active during the protests, including many who called for changes to the political system.

In virtually all cases, weeks after their arrest, their whereabouts remain unknown; the government has refused to disclose this information to their families or lawyers or, in most cases, allow any contact or visits, prompting great anxiety as to the safety and welfare of the detainees.

[…]

Human rights conditions in Bahrain have undergone a marked deterioration in recent weeks. This was clear and palpable during Amnesty International?s most recent fact-finding visit, following an earlier visit in February.

The government?s resort to renewed excessive force to suppress the protests, its declaration of the State of National Safety and the extraordinary powers that contains, and the application of those powers to arrest and detain incommunicado hundreds of mainly Shi?a protestors and political activists has exacerbated tension between the Sunni and Shi?a Muslim communities and cast Bahrain on a very worrying downward trajectory.
“Bahrain: A human rights crisis” – Amnesty International (PDF)

The government criticised the report as “inaccurate, one-sided and unfair” and has used its near-total grip on the media to refute the claims of the protesters.

Public figures who supported them have been smeared on Bahrain’s entirely state-controlled television.

One of the few newspapers which does not toe the Bahrain government’s line, Al-Wasat, was closed earlier this month. The use of the internet is heavily restricted.

It is not difficult to draw a line between the government’s suppression of protests and the Grand Prix. The government has spent huge sums on the Bahrain International Circuit, which has lost BD 44.3m (??71.1m) in the last three years.

The protesters who have appealed directly to Ecclestone are likely to be disappointed. His eagerness to have the race reinstated can be gauged from his initial claim that the race could be held in the searing August heat.

Having realised the impossibility of his idea he is now trying to fit it in at the end of the year. He has insisted his standpoint is not “political”, saying “Formula One must never be political ?ǣ full stop”.

But there is no apolitical stance on this matter. Either you are happy for the Bahraini government to suppress its people so F1 can hold a race, or you aren’t.

That is the decision the FIA may very soon find itself faced with.

2011 Bahrain Grand Prix

Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images