F1 Cancellation of Race in Bahrain Draws Criticism

While the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) have lately shown a determination to keep politics and political considerations out of sports, the Formula One governing body seems to be heading in the contrary direction.

For instance just recently the ICC came out with a resolution which set a deadline for various nations’ cricket control bodies to cleanse themselves of politicians and political links by the middle of next year.

In this context one finds it quite bizarre that the F1 governing body, through Bernie Ecclestone, who represents the holders of Formula One’s commercial rights, should have first agreed a revised of October-end to the Bahrain event, pushing the Indian Grand Prix to December 11, and within days should have committed a volte-face and cancelled the race.

One might ask how is that action tantamount to playing politics? Well, it is because while cancelling the F1 for a second time, the F1 bigwigs had sought to justify their action on protests-related deaths, alleged arrests of protesters and detention and trial of doctors and nurses on various charges.

In other words they justified the cancellation on the ground that the situation in Bahrain was not conducive to holding the race. One would like to squarely challenge this judgemental decision.

To begin with, this action would have been justified only if the race was slated imminently close to the date of announcement of the cancellation, like in the case of the first cancellation. Since the revised date of October 31 and the revised announcement to hold the race was made in the first week of June, what prompted F1 pundits to gauge that the situation would continue to be unacceptable to holding the race for another five months? Are they crystal-gazers?

The King had ordered the lifting of the State of National Safety on June 1 and on the same day had declared July 1 as the date to start the National Reconciliation Dialogue – which is already in progress as envisaged. The Prime Minister has ordered the private companies to take another look at the records of the employees they may have sacked and take them back, the government on its part has reinstated a number of sacked employees, all protests-related cases are now being tried in civil courts, all opposition parties are now sitting on the table to hold the reconciliation dialogue, the Saudi and UAE forces called in to restore order have been withdrawn from the streets, businesses, banking services, schools and hospitals are back to normal.

One would like to know what calculations made F1 decision-makers to believe nothing of this will happen and that the situation would still be volatile even in October. What sort of certificates did their advisers need to convince themselves that they were in the wrong? Does ground reality stand for nothing in the eyes of F1 even if it does for the rest of the world?

The fact of the matter is, and a recent report in ‘The Guardian’ of London supports this view, that the decision was forced upon the FIA by its sponsors and by the participating teams’ reluctance to make an extra long-haul trip which would shorten their staffs’ holidays. Add to this the well-known fact that the previous FIA President, Max Mosley, who had to quit F1 in ignominy some years ago, had his own axe to grind vis a vis Bahrain. And one would understand how F1 itself plays politics of its own while blaming the political situation in harmless countries for not holding its events.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.