The Bahrain International Circuit has responded to “media speculation” about the race with a statement which quotes “a number of neutral interested parties” including two representatives of the Lotus F1 Team, who visited Bahrain recently to investigate the security situation and sent a report to all Formula 1 team principals on 5 April 2012. The Lotus report said: “Yes there is a need to keep the circuit and the teams secure and they are doing this and they feel very comfortable about the arrangements. If there is going to be protestation then it will be confined to peaceful protests – you will maybe see some banners being waved and maybe some tyres on fire but that is all that they expect. We came away from Bahrain feeling a lot more confident that everything is in hand and to be honest if it wasn’t for a few more police you wouldn’t know any difference from the last year we were there.”
The two representatives were not named.
The statement quoted Britain’s Ambassador to Bahrain, Iain Lindsay on March 27, saying that: “The British government is pleased to see the progress the Bahraini authorities have made in implementing the recommendations of the landmark BICI, chaired by Prof Cherif Bassiouni. I firmly believe that the (F1) event can act as a way of bringing communities together… there are some who favour direct action on the streets. I believe they are wrong, and have little doubt that they represent a small minority of their own community and an even smaller minority of the Bahraini population. Incidents have been been mainly confined to particular districts, away from the city centre and areas frequented by visitors. I have little doubt that the Bahraini authorities will do everything they can to ensure that the Grand Prix goes off smoothly.”
It said that the UK maintains its “no travel restrictions” security status on Bahrain.
It quotes Ben Wallace MP, chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Iran. “Bahrain has made massive steps towards reform in the last year. Many observers have been encouraged by the independent commission of enquiry into events last year and so far 15 out of the 24 reforms recommended have been implemented. As chair of the UK parliament’s all party group on Iran I have been at the forefront of pressurising Bahrain to do more for its Shia population and have met a number of the opposition groups in the past months. If I thought it would help I would be the first to call for the cancellation. I believe however that as things stand, by allowing the Bahrain Grand Prix to go ahead it can play a part in healing the country.”
It also quoted a remark made in February by Professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, Chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, saying that “the Grand Prix is a significant national event, which is of great interest to a substantial percentage of the population and all of its communities. It is, therefore, an event of deserved national pride. Aside from the economic, publicity and public relations advantages that the grand prix brings to Bahrain it is, on the one year anniversary of the February/March events of last year, an important point of departure for the people of Bahrain to forge ahead in their national efforts towards reconciliation.”
It also quoted John Yates, a former assistant commissioner in the London Metropolitan Police Service, who is a paid adviser to Bahrain’s Interior Ministry on policing (and thus hardly neutral), saying in an interview this week that the authorities are aiming to provide adequate security that keeps F1 personnel and fans safe without showing overt force that impinges the event. He said: “It is very much hoped that the policing will be low key and discreet. But if there are problems, they … must be able to escalate their response if need be. People can be assured that if problems arise, then there will be a plan to deal with that, as there would be with any public event in the world. It’s a really important event for this country. There is nothing that in any way warrants for the race to be postponed.”
The statement did not quote Damon Hill, who did go to Bahrain and has since changed his mind about it being a good idea.
Zayed Al Zayani, the chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit, continued to be on the offensive, railing against “armchair observers – who have not been sufficiently interested or committed to investigate the situation for themselves”.
I guess that I am one of them.
“We have welcomed a number of people to Bahrain over the last few weeks, who have all been able to find out for themselves that the kingdom is ready to host Formula 1 next month,” he said. “I therefore urge all stakeholders in the sport to listen to those with an informed, educated view of the situation and to form their views on the facts of the situation, as presented by neutral first-hand observers.”
One assumes from this statement that the Al-Zayani believes that F1 can hold a race without any fear of any kind of danger for anyone during the visit. This is a very brave stance to take as he will be the first person to take the blame if it all goes horribly wrong for the F1 visitors in Bahrain. On the other hand he will probably also have to take the blame if the race does not happen, so in a political sense he has very little choice but to be positive.
The problem is not an easy one. There is, of course, a chance that the race could go ahead untroubled. The Bahrainis who want the race to happen (for whatever reasons) say that there is no risk. Perhaps some even believe it. Others think it is a rather larger risk. I have been to Bahrain and I have seen first hand rioting that the F1 race caused five or six years ago. It was happening outside my hotel. The problem is not new. It was there then and it is clearly worse now. The question is how much worse. The Internet is filled with messages from people on the ground. Not all of them are Iranian secret agents. The reporters who cover the sport are not working for Teheran. People are not making this stuff up.
We will go to Bahrain if the people responsible for such decisions say that we are safe to go. If people get hurt then it will be the responsibility of those who make these decisions. If there is trouble they will no doubt try to say that it was not their fault, but that will not be true. They will all have to resign, because they will all have been shown to have had flawed judgement.
But that is not the point. At least not yet. It is a question of risk and of image. The fact that there is even discussion – informed or otherwise – should start alarm bells ringing throughout the sport. Lest we forget that is what F1 is. It is a sport. It is a meaningless competition between young men driving very fast racing machines. It is not a political tool used to try to unif1y a country that clearly has a lot of people who have no desire to be unif1ed with the current regime. It is not a miracle cure.
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