On the issue of Bahrain

There seems little left to say on the matter of Bahrain, so saturated has the media been with opinion and analysis of the controversial event. But I feel that Box Of Neutrals owes itself the opportunity to provide even a few brief lines of coverage, provided without Peter flipping us off in the meanwhile.
The Bahrain issue is a complex one. It’s easy to say that we shouldn’t be there on political grounds.- particularly as the FIA itself states, via its first statute, that it aims to be totally removed from politics. It is clear, as one would reasonably assume in any case, that the Bahrain royal family is using the race as a tool in an attempt to purify its international image. The tagline – ‘UniF1y’ – makes this obvious enough.
It is the aim of any government supporting a Grand Prix to use the race for its own ends. Formula One provides a mammoth television viewership, not to mention treatment from all other media, that the hosting of a race is as much a method of advertising as it is a sporting event.
Moreover – as is the oft-raised point – if we choose not to race in Bahrain because the government will use it as a positive front for a non-humane regime, should we also remove China from the calendar? It isn’t, after all, Formula One’s role to be an arbiter of morality. I mean, considering some of the characters our sport has produced in the past…
Meanwhile, can we necessarily exclude Bahrain from the calendar without also making a political statement? By taking a stance on the crisis in Bahrain, and subsequently abandoning the race, Formula One then supports the protesters. On the one hand, this does seem like the morally ‘right’ thing to do – but then I can hardly claim to have any sort of grasp on what is an enormously complex political situation.
Safety is certainly an issue, it must be said. It is the FIA’s job to ensure that its sport is safe when travelling. The security of the teams, FIA and FOM personnel, and even the media to some extent (though not officially), falls to the sport’s governing body.
Thus, the FIA has assured Formula One that its safety is guaranteed – because Bahrain has in turn assured the FIA that the safety of the country’s guest will be taken care of.
Some journalists have been in Bahrain for the entire week leading up to race weekend, and have so far reported that, while protest sites do get significantly more extreme than the government would like to admit, safety should not be an issue if individuals do not go looking for trouble.
Moreover, the protesters themselves say that while Formula One in Bahrain will be used as a way to get their messages across, they will not target the sport directly, and aim not to cause violence. After all, it would not do their cause well to injure guests of the country.
However, I maintain that Formula One should not be in Bahrain.
Protesters will use Formula One as a lightning rod to gain international publicity – and fair enough. Meanwhile, security forces will be on high alert to ensure that proceedings will not be affected. My concern is that, in the event of a clash escalating into violence, the FIA will then be responsible for any injury or death that may result.
While the safety of those working directly in Formula One shouldn’t be a problem, any violence that occurs over the course of this weekend will and must be the fault of our sport being in the country.
The FIA has taken an unnecessary risk. While all has been done to minimise the risk taken by those travelling to the race, the risk to the protesters has been heightened by its presence. It is an unacceptable risk, and this is where I find fault in the FIA.
I regret that Formula One has to be in Bahrain, and we can now only hope that nothing of this sort will happen this weekend.


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