Arab Spring F1 (Ep III): 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/19/2013 06:15:00 PM
For a third consecutive year, we have controversy over whether the Bahrain Grand Prix should proceed. In 2011, it was famously cancelled despite attempts by F1 bigwigs to insulate this event from the turmoil that engulfed the region via the Arab Spring of protests against authoritarian regimes (alike that of Bahrain)[1, 2, 3]. Despite many conscientious F1 drivers saying that F1 is simply a sport while what's going on in the country is a life-or-death matter to some, the race went ahead anyway in 2012.

This year, the protesters are back in action. To be sure, the protesters are smart in understanding that the travelling circus that is F1 has few peers in attracting the world's attention to their cause annually. They have barricaded routes to the F1 track, forcing the government to again vow for the safety of F1 personnel. Why waste such an opportunity to score easy publicity? On the other hand, F1 bigwigs are sticking to the tack they've had since last year: Instead of marginalizing the protesters as nuisances, their approach is to position the hosting the race as part of the reconciliation process. Which, of course, is rather superficial insofar as it is the government the protesters are up in arms against who pay Formula one its fees. As the saying goes, he who has the gold...
Activists have demanded that F1 bosses cancel the race due to Bahrain's poor human rights record. The race which was first run in Bahrain in 2004 was cancelled two years ago following the forcible clearance of an iconic Manama landmark, Pearl Roundabout. In the unrest that followed more than 50 people died, hundreds were arrested and thousands dismissed from their jobs. Last year's race went ahead in an atmosphere of heightened security. One protester was shot dead by police...

But in a joint statement on Friday, motorsport's world governing body and Formula One management said this year's race should proceed as planned. The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and Formula One Management (FOM) said they "also strongly believe sport can often be a force for good and that the staging of the Grand Prix in Bahrain will come some way in helping soothe some of the issues which have been raised in the media". Protests were reported across the kingdom on Thursday night, with demonstrators chanting "No Formula on Bahrain's occupied land", according to AFP news agency.
Protesters blocked roads with burning tyres, and police responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
I am still undecided on the matter of who's in the right here, but rest assured that the govenment's intentions to use the race as a showcase for Bahrain all those years ago has since backfired ever since protests spread throughout the Middle East. Indeed, the balance of public relations is arguably negative nowadays with no end in sight as this race is held year in and year out.

UPDATE: Being ever so politically incorrect, F1 ringleader Bernie Ecclestone has labelled Bahrain's leaders "stupid" for hosting the grand prix and in the process giving protesters free publicity as described above.