A load of balls - Bahrain Grand Prix
The F1 shouldn’t let Bahrain Grand Prix be used as political tool - the 7DAYS sports boys on when sport becomes more than just a game...
The 7DAYS sports desk has often found the declaration that sport and politics don’t mix to be slightly strange in that it’s so patently untrue.
Throughout history sport has been used by those in power for political ends and will continue to be so for decades more. Think the 1936 Berlin Olympics, think Eastern Bloc football clubs, think cricket in Zimbabwe: the examples of the abuse of sport and its ideals by governments are shockingly plentiful.
Which is why we’re glad to hear that, with the race less than two weeks away, pressure is mounting on Formula One to abandon the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Recent weeks have seen reports of human rights abuses in the Gulf kingdom return to the headlines. In March protestor Ahmed Ismail was shot dead by authorities - a murder that has brought back into the spotlight jailed activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja’s hunger strike, now lasting more than two months.
This time last year the F1 circus, in a rare moment of moral clarity, rightly decided that with the government crackdown still raging in and around Manama it would be inappropriate to have the spectacle of speed at the Sakhir circuit.
Since then, although not dominating headlines, the Bahrainis’ struggle against the government hasn’t stopped and, as Ahmed’s death proves, the ruling elite hasn’t suddenly embraced the concept of brotherly love either. Something that seems to be dawning on some of F1, if not supremo Bernie Ecclestone and a few deluded petrolheads.
Former world champion Damon Hill, who has become a quasi figurehead for the sport in the UK, spoke for many when he said: “In order to hold the Grand Prix [the government] would have to impose very serious security measures to prevent protestors making their point, then it would appear that the event is taking place on one side of the argument.
“That is the worry for the reputation of the sport; that it is actually taking political sides,” he added.
While that’s lost on money-mad Ecclestone and others in the paddock, that is the crux of the issue as far as F1 is concerned. The reason most countries want to host races is that the sport is a great way to show off their state to the world. They can convince the millions watching to either visit or persuade them that their home is a ‘nice place’.
That that isn’t the case with Bahrain is obvious and holding the Grand Prix there next week would give credence to the lie that it is, in the process allowing the sport to be a tool in the political grandstanding of the regime in Manama.
We all know F1 takes place in countries with unenviable human rights records. But that does not mean it is right for F1 to collude in presenting to the outside world a sanitised picture of normality at Sakhir, when what is likely to be going on just a few miles outside the circuit will be very different.
Sport and politics are never separate and now, more than ever, people would do well to remember that.