We have already talked about Bahrain, and the situation seems not to have changed in the least. In spite of the authorities’ continuous statements about their efforts to reach consensus and achieve enduring peace and stability, protests have not abated, and they even have escalated throughout the last weeks under the threat of what activists have called “volcanic flames”. Why is that? Because the tiny island is hosting a key F1 event many enthusiasts and sportsmen cherish, and Shia Baharainis are aware this could be the only means to attract attention over their ongoing struggle for freedom and recognition of their rights. Bahrain’s Shiite majority feels its plight has been outrageously forgotten by the rest of the world, once the “Arab Spring trend” has apparently faded away.
The season-opening race was already suspended in 2011, shortly after the uprising kicked off and the protests were (temporarily) quelled by the brutal intervention of the neighbouring GCC forces. Many international actors publicly denounced the incompatibility between being host of a global competition and at the same time resorting to violent means to suppress dissent, and the Gulf Kingdom authorities reckoned the consequences of not cancelling the Prix could turn pretty unfavourable from a public image point of view. The official version of the Government claimed the country was focused on building up a constructive national dialogue (that has already failed many times so far).
Last week, voices demanding the cancellation of the event by the Head of F1 could be heard all over the international arena (notably coming from human rights watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch), as having granted the regime such an honnour may be considered tantamount to granting it some kind of legitimacy, despite ongoing violations of human rights and disrespect towards democratic principles. Some activists are against this proposal, retorting that this is precisely what they are in vital need of: increased media coverage that might cast light on the difficult situation Bahrain’s people are still going through, particularly throughout the event, when the country becomes a giant jail. Bernie Ecclecstone (who, asked about the demonstrations, said: “What’s happened? They’re demonstrating now? I didn’t know that. There’s nobody demonstrating”) has offered to meet with protesters, repeatedly stressing at the same time the race will go on as planned, though. He has also added “security will be guaranteed”… “for all participants”. Thank God! And there I thought an activist was going to be spared maltreatment! The main problem with that is that it is not Mr Ecclecstone’s fault. International organizations and associations in charge of organizing this kind of events should abide by democratic principles, and they don’t. For example, Belarus, the only dictatorship in Europe, will host the 2014 World Hockey Championships. Sport may be hailed as a way of bringing people together. It certainly is. But in this case it is actually bringing together an autocratic regime and wealthy entrepreneurs who seem not to care about Bahrainis being tortured next door.