That’s the million dollar question (quite literally too !, Bahrain apparently paid around 40 million dollars to the FIA to host last year’s race which was canceled) , with human rights groups asking the FIA to set an example and cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix due to gross human rights violations in the Middle Eastern country.
F1 fans would remember a similar debate last year when initially the race was delayed, then rescheduled and ultimately cancelled for the same reason. At that time also there was a lot of pressure from human rights groups and even teams and drivers who were aghast at some of the stories that were surfacing from the troubled country.
The Bahrain center for Human rights has been quite vocal about the F1 race and its implications on the country’s politics and internal situation. Their website hosts a photo of a woman complaining that her husband got fired from the Bahrain International Circuit just for liking a protest photo on facebook. Their website not surprisingly has been banned in Bahrain.
My two cents are that the F1 event can be used as a medium by the Government in Bahrain to show the world that all is well (thoughts which are also echoed by the VP of Bahrain Center for Human Rights). A formula one race is no less than the Olympics in terms of popularity across the world and formula one drivers and teams should be looked upon as ambassadors of peace. Any controversy and that too of this scale has the potential to deal a serious blow to F1’s image and reputation.
Articles as recent as Jan 2012 detail how even now people are being tortured for bein a part of pro-democracy protests that took place next year. In such an environment, do we really want a formula one race to happen ? Bernie Ecclestone has to answer this question for the millions of formula one fans across the world.
Leaving you with some quotes from Human Rights organisations about the situation and their recommendations.
“We will do a campaign for drivers and teams to boycott. The government wants Formula One to tell the outside world that everything is back to normal,” said Nabeel Rajab, vice president for Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
“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. I am sure the drivers and teams respect human rights.”
“The FIA should consider the serious abuse of human rights in Bahrain and the fact that to this day authorities continue to suppress pro-democracy protests.” Mariwan Hama-Saeed of New York-based Human Rights Watch told Arabian Business.
“I doubt that Formula One can be a success in a country where serious human rights abuses have been committed. The political situation is unstable and polarised in Bahrain. We are very concerned about the government’s commitment to implement meaningful reform.”