The Bahrain dilemma

While the F1 authorities continue to say that there are no problems with the Grand Prix in Bahrain in April, there continue to be question marks about the event because of unrest in the country. Agence France Presse reported on Wednesday that Bahraini police dispersed anti-government protesters who blocked roads in several villages as tensions rise in the run-up to the first anniversary of the start of the anti-government protests. Public Security Chief Major General Tariq al-Hassan said that “vandals” had blocked the streets and had thrown petrol bombs during the clashes on Tuesday night. The security forces made several arrests. While there are only a small minority who are causing the trouble it should be noted that the US State Department said on Monday that it was relocating embassy staff and their families as a safety precaution. It is also warning Americans travelling to Bahrain of potential unrest in the Gulf kingdom as the anniversary approaches.

“The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations, as even peaceful ones can quickly become unruly, and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse,” the alert says.

“Spontaneous and sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations occur in some neighborhoods, particularly at night and on weekends,” it said. “These demonstrations have included blockades of major highways, trash can fires, and establishment of unofficial checkpoints. Participants have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails and used various other homemade weapons. The Ministry of Interior maintains official checkpoints in some areas and routinely uses tear gas, stun grenades, and other crowd control measures against demonstrators. The violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators can make travel in and around Bahrain dangerous without advance warning.

“The US Embassy restricts its employees from traveling to specific areas and advises all US citizens to do the same. The recent increase in violent demonstrations along the Budaiya Highway corridor has led to traffic disruptions, effectively restricting travel for those living in the area. The resulting inability to leave one’s home for an extended period poses significant safety and security concerns. As a result, Embassy employees and their dependents are being relocated to different neighborhoods. We continue to urge US citizens to follow the latest security guidance and to avoid demonstrations.”

The travel advice lasts until April 19, which is three days before the race is due to take place.

This is interesting but not disastrous for the event, although any travel advisory from the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office is likely to be much more influential, as this would affect the insurance status of all the British-based Formula 1 teams. At the moment there is no travel advisory but the FCO is warning that “there has been an increase in protests and disruption across various parts of Bahrain in recent weeks. Some groups have called for a general increase in such activity in the period running up to and including 14 February (the anniversary of the ‘Day of Rage’), and one group has called for action to begin from 24 January onwards. We cannot confirm where or when any such activity or resulting disruption will take place, but you should maintain a high level of security awareness, exercise caution, particularly in public places and on the roads, and avoid large crowds and demonstrations”.

F1 can be blind to the world if it chooses to do so, but F1 teams will not be blind to their insurers.

There is no doubt that the authorities and many others in Bahrain want the Grand Prix to happen, but the radical opposition is also aware that a big international event would provide them with an opportunity to stir up trouble as any potential protests at the F1 track would have to be stopped and that would likely result in conflict. As the extreme opposition is trying to stir up trouble, this suits them well…

24 thoughts on “The Bahrain dilemma

  1. But Damon Hill said it will be fine and so I trust his judgement above the US Embassy who clearly don’t understand these global tension hotspots in the same way as a former BRDC president can.

  2. I Joe, this is my first comment on your blog (oh, i´m shivering). That old (pal) Bernie is smart as mice. As we say in Portugal, he´s giving them rope to hang themselves. If, for any reason, the GP won´t get done, no one can blame him for not trying everything.

  3. I’m completely apolitical and have no interest in how regimes run their countries – to a point.

    However, clinging on to a Bahrain GP as unrest continues seems a little pointless.
    Perhaps its Bernie manoeuvring the contract clauses again or maybe there really is a close relationship between the parties – Never let it be said that Bernie doesn’t stick by you if you hold up your end of the deal.
    Or maybe Bahrain feels that by hanging on to the GP it’ll play well PR’ wise and they’re prepared pay a bit more for that.

    Either way, it’s now starting to do more damage than good. Continual protestations that ‘All is OK’ while the streets rumble on appears disingenuous. The next step is ‘wishful thinking’ and then ‘you’re lying’.
    Damage to a government escalates in these circumstances as quickly as credibility decreases.

    As I’ve said before – when your population are on the streets the last thing you need is the world looking at you for 3 days straight.

    Pull the plug. Give it a clear 15 months to calm down and then look at it again.

  4. I feel the future of the 2012 Bahrain GP lies indirectly with the FCO. If Bahrain is placed on the FCO travel warning list for the duration of the Grand Prix weekend, teams will claim force majeure and not go due to insurance policies being invalidated. It seems to be a waiting game now.

  5. Tear gas, water canons, rubber bullets and baton charges sounds like the tactics used by western governments in supressing riots.

  6. Whilst only three of the sacked circuit officials have returned to work it is reported that the original detention and persecution was done on a merely religious basis. The terms offered for re-employment were unacceptable. Meanwhile many of the positions have been filled by new people of the “correct” sect.

    Have the Saudi troops gone yet?

    I check Gulf news and Al Jazeera every day but the most information seems to come from the BBC.

    Now a part of that article seems to ring a bell.

    1. Last I heard the ‘Saudi’ troops are still there, although I doubt any of them are actually of Saudi Arabian nationality.

      Al Jazeera is sponsored by the oil people and is seen as pretty conservative in the middle east. The BBC is UK state television so just tows the Westminster line. You’re better to check out which is excellent for news on anything outside Russia. Or there’s always Democracy Now if you want to go hard core!

        1. It’s a little bit hard to know what you’re trying to say there? Yea they’re the almost extinct breed that is US left wing media, yea they deal with stories not often covered in western mainstream media. I’m certainly not saying believe unconditionally what they say nor use them as you’re only source of news. But if you want to see clearly you need the full spectrum.

    2. “The terms offered for re-employment were unacceptable”

      Do you have chapter and verse on that ?

      Well done Joe for keeping this murky tale on the front page.

  7. Forget about profitability for the moment (hard to do in F1). Is it morally reprehensible to go to Bahrain this year with this upheaval flaring up and no significant government reforms in the books? F1 skipped Bahrain last year and this did not seem to plunge the sport or the Al Khalifa family into financial ruin, so why not respectfully bow out to allow for more meaningful changes to take place within Bahrain? Assuming no major legal issues arise from withdrawing the race from the 2012 calendar (I’m sure this is not the case), is there a suitable replacement at this point in time?

      1. Sorry, the above reply may come across as incredibly rude. It isn’t meant to be.

        But as repeatedly stated before and after, the issue of ethics in F1 is something continually dodged at every level (except by Mark Webber) as everyone seeks to avoid the issue. I will always cite Apartheid South Africa as the classic case study; rejected by FIFA and the IOC a full 15 years before the last F1 GP there – in the year of Lewis Hamilton’s birth, for anyone with an F1 / civil rights interest.

        But the financial implications of a no-show in Bahrain would be massive, and in F1 you can never just “forget” about profitability. Sad, perhaps, but true; F1 is a brutal capitalist world. Many teams are running on the bleeding edge of their budgets as it is, they can’t afford the wrath of the F1 (and their own sponsors) for withdrawing on moral grounds.

        It’s a game of chicken, the first to flinch loses (financially) so while I’m sure the Bahrainis and the FIA can afford it, they don’t want to.

        Running a replacement race requires a replacement, F1-ready track. These aren’t overly easy to come by given the tight safety standards imposed, but the easy choice is one of the following :

        Istanbul park in Turkey (dropped this year but the track is sound)
        Nürburgring (German GP at Hockeheim this year)
        Fuji Speedway (last raced 2008, may not have 12 team pits)
        the Valencia race track (not Valencia traffic jam track)

  8. This would all be a lot simpler and easier on the teams if Bernie knew the difference between right and wrong, not just the difference between a dollar and a dinar…

  9. Hi Joe. I remember you saying on Sidepodcast a number of months ago, that you hadn’t yet decided whether or not you would be going to Bahrain this year. Have you made up your mind yet? or will you be making that decision later down the line?


  10. Insurance, or lack thereof, drives a lot of business decisions. I once worked on a case that involved insurance for a cancelled cricket test between Pakistan and India (they were testing nuclear bombs at the time). A significant issue in dispute was whether India’s non-appearance constituted a “boycott” (not covered) versus a voluntary non-appearance (covered). The devil, as always, is in the details.

  11. What the media don’t seem to appreciate is that if Bernie of the FIA are seen to publicly say “the race is off” or even imply as such, they could be held responsible for the race not happening and face the financial and legal consequences of that. Similarly, the teams aren’t going to risk upsetting applecarts by saying in public “we ain’t going”, because the fact of the matter is, rightly or wrongly, there is no general public concern about the situation in Bahrain in the way there was about Egypt, Libya or Syria. If there was a more powerful voice influencing the average European/American/’Western’ person that Bahrain is a bad place, then the teams would be better positioned to take a stand. It may not be morally the most correct thing to do, but by putting a “it’ll be OK” face on things they are taking the prudent route, firstly by literally seeing if things blow over (they won’t), secondly by letting the Bahrainis have the opportunity to call it off themselves (as they did, in the end, last year), and thirdly by letting the insurers make the decision and thereby claiming force majour or whatever.

    I in no way condone what is apparently going on in Bahrain and I think impartial voices like journalists should speak out, but there needs to be a bit more thought applied than just saying ‘nasty ole F1 sidling up to nasty ole dictators’ as I detect in some quarters.

  12. I’m relieved that my route to the track only involves going under the Budaiya Highway, not actually on it. I feel so much safer now.

  13. A little bird in team kit told me that – at the moment – Bahrain insurance is expensive but possible. The death of Kim Jong-Il has sent insurance costs skywards for South Korea, however, as no one’s sure how stable the Kim Jong-un/Jang Sung-taek power sharing will be.

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