The Bahrain GP and F1’s risk management

If there is any debate in Formula 1 circles about whether the Bahrain Grand Prix should go ahead in April, it is happening behind closed doors. The only public statements thus far have all been either in favour of the event happening, or neutral. It seems that no-one wants to speak out and say what an awful lot of people in the business are thinking.

My view remains the same. F1 needs to think very carefully about what there is to be gained and what there is to be lost by hosting a race this year in Bahrain. The sport will happily return to Bahrain in the future if the political situation is settled and there are no risks involved, but it makes very little sense for F1 to put its head into the mouth of a lion when it does not need to do so.

Yes, there might be some financial loss from not going to Bahrain, but going to Bahrain might also result in financial losses as not all the sport’s sponsors want to be associated with the troubles there. One way or another holding a race in Bahrain is an overt gesture of support for the government. It is no good pretending that sport is above politics, or simply part of the healing process, because there is no question that Bahrain’s desire to hold a race is a way in which Bahrain can try to show the world that all is well. Knowing that this is the case, the opposition (however big or small it is) is bound to try to use the event to spread its message around the world. And the government is bound to try to stop that happening.

The FIA Statutes say that the federation shall “refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect”. One can argue about what this means, but it is far better not to have to have that argument. It is better for F1 not to take any risk that does not need to be taken.

While the authorities might be able to secure the race track and stop unwanted visitors, it is almost impossible for them to guarantee the safety of all F1 people. In recent weeks an organisation called the 14 February Youth Coalition has circulated a letter to foreigners in the country, warning them to leave the country and accusing them of working as mercenaries and attacking anti-government protesters. There have been attacks. In the last few days these have been confirmed by the Interior Ministry, which has naturally condemned such actions.

“Attacks on the expatriates and members of the foreign communities are unacceptable by any standard,” said Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Bin Abdullah Al Khalifa. “They are against all religions and conventions and clash with Islam’s values and tolerance and Bahrain’s traditions in dealing with various peoples.”

The condemnation follows attacks on Peter Morrisey, a British man who had two fingers chopped off with a sword. He also suffered fractured ribs. He is reported to have been assaulted by a group of people in a village to the west of Manama. Earlier an Indian was attacked in Manama itself.

Such activities may be condemned by the authorities and some of the opposition, but the opposition is clearly not one single unified body but rather a range of groups some who are working with the government, and some that are more extreme and are stirring up trouble on the streets. One group of anti-government campaigners have decided to create a makeshift “Freedom Square” on a piece of land on the outskirts of Manama. The aim of this is to try to create a focal point for the protests, in the run up to the first anniversary of the troubles. The original focal point was the Pearl Roundabout, which is now off-limits, although some protesters say that they will march there on the 14th.

Elsewhere, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the authorities to allow journalists into the country to carry out their work freely. it said that at least six journalists has had their visa applications refused. They had applied in order to cover the February 14 anniversary. They were told the rejections were due to a “high volume of requests” and that they should re-apply after February. Among those refused visas were two reporters from the New York Times, one from the Christian Science Monitor, one from the BBC, one from The Wall Street Journal and one from Al-Jazeera.

“Bahraini authorities act as if they have something to hide by engaging in this crude form of censorship,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, a spokesman for CPJ. “The government should immediately reverse its decision and allow international news media to observe and report on the anniversary.”

The CPJ said that it has documented the deaths of two journalists in government custody, in addition to dozens of detentions, physical assaults, deportations, and government-sponsored smearing of journalists, among other violations.

The desire to hold the race is better understood when one sees how the Bahrain economy has been suffering from the troubles. A report by the Bahrain Four Star Hotel Owners Association says that the 27 hotels in the group have lost nearly $80 million in the last year, as reservations have halved. The association chairman Abdulhameed Al Halwachi said that there have also been losses in the food and beverage industry and with serviced apartments.

“Hotels had been suffering in several ways even before that but in the last year things have gone from bad to worse. Now, with another February 14 approaching very few people, if any, are coming to Bahrain,” he said. “The hotel occupancy level has fallen significantly with an average rate of 50 per cent at the moment. We have had bad moments and have recovered but the situation is still critical. We have to rebuild the trust and confidence (in Bahrain) so that more and more people come here.”

He blamed the drop in visitors on the “negative impact of the Western media’s misinformation”.

Whether attacking the messengers is the smartest way to get them to support Bahrain is a point worthy of discussion. Thus far no-one has explained why respected global news organisations would want to attack Bahrain, as there is nothing to be gained from being critical of the policies of a government that is upholding Western interests in the region – unless they deserve to be criticised.

44 thoughts on “The Bahrain GP and F1’s risk management

  1. I think your blog is very, very good, and the majority of the time balanced and impartial, but I do wish you would not keep banging on about Bahrain. I’m feed up with politician trying to influence every aspect of daily life.

    1. Being fed up with politics in F1 is exactly the reason why reporting about this situation is important. If you don’t want politics influence F1 (or F1 influence politics) then F1 shouldn’t even think about going to Bahrain. Unfortunately since Bernie only makes decisions based on money and not on the premise of avoiding political issues reporters, like Joe, have to report about the situation to keep the FOM/FIA in check.

      Nice article Joe! If only the ministry of foreign affairs would issue a no visit warning based on the facts that are reported on this situation by several news agencies. Whenever someone loses his fingers just for being a foreigner should be reason enough to issue such warning (and especially since he’s British the British government should issue this warning. The problems with insurances that arise from that warning will probably push the FIA to cancel the race).

  2. Is it your take that the desire to go to Bahrain comes entirely from Bernie, or do any significant number of people want to do this, Joe?

  3. Well done Joe, more information than all other sources (available in the uk) put together.
    Maybe a UK based reported will doorstep Damon.

      1. An exclusive comment on the subject of Bahrain direct from Mr Hill (why not Sir Hill yet?) would be quite a coup d’tat for your blog, Joe. 😉

          1. I’m sorry that came across incorrectly. I wasn’t meaning to suggest that you should abuse your relationship with DH, I was trying to suggest that he might be willing to discuss the situation explicitly for publication by you. Apologies for the lack of clarity in a half-hearted attempt at wit.

            And my wife did suggest this morning that she fancied a battle of wits, but saw that I was an unarmed combatant. Not my day.

  4. Agree totally. However, I think that barring fundamental re-structuring of the Bahraini government, F1 will likely never return.

  5. “why respected global news organisations would want to attack Bahrain…”

    Joe, may I say this last paragraph lets down what is otherwise a perfectly objective article? are all journalists in “respected global news organisations” as impartial or disinterested as yourself? don’t some have axes to grind, and agendas to pursue? do you not agree that any group that declares armed opposition to any government in the region is likely to get sympathetic coverage from our “respected” news networks?

    1. Go and try and get at job at Reuters or the AP and then come back and tell me that they donot have high standards. They are proper journalists, in the old-fashioned meaning of the word. And they have to source everything far more than the rest of us. There are no hidden agendas. These guys are just doing a good job, telling the world what is happening.

      1. Joe, the only people who think all our media are perfection personified are .. yes: our media.
        Don’t forget the Leveson Inquiry currently examining, in their words, “the culture, practices and ethics of the press.”
        I agree with 95% of what you have written, I’m just questioning your last para!!

        1. I couldn’t see where Joe called the press “perfection personified”, but I did see a list of news organizations that I respect who had been denied visas. I, for one, would not believe anything said by any government that was selective of the journalists given visas. If there is no free press then there is supression supported by oppression.

          1. I too respect Reuters and the AP as you do, but e.g. the Christian Science Monitor stood at the High Court in London not so long ago and admitted to forging documents in order to frame people as guilty of things they had not done. So, I’m just saying there are some sections of our press whom you yourself would not readily accept.
            I’m not sure that petulant put downs are the best way to debate “a point worthy of discussion”, esp when I agree on most of what is said.

  6. I have to say that I think that is the best piece I have read on whether the Bahrain GP should happen. My own gut feeling is it will not happen as any protests leading up to the race will cause the FCO to alter its travel advice to the nation and place Bahrain on the “Do not go” list thus invalidating travel insurance. Bahrain already has cautions on U.S. and Australian foreign office web sites and I will be surprised if the UK does not follow suit. As for the long term, I feel that if Bahrain stabilises and changes are made then there is no reason why the race can not return.

  7. Hi Joe, you do bang on this issue and saying you don’t care (although true) is a bit unnecessarily rude to David.

    Nonetheless, I agree it is an important issue – THANKS for doing so. I have to say I thought it would be okay to race in Bahrain until the recent statement by the various Lordy legislators.

    Surely the insurers will now take a different view? And what of Damon Hill’s statement? He’s is known to be a man of integrity, has he been fooled?

    Playing devil’s advocate, gruesome crimes and many wrongs happen in all countries including Brazil, and the UK. What should make Bahrain any different? What would convince insurance companies to take a different view on Bahrain for F1 purposes.

    Keep up the great work.

  8. The race is not going to go ahead, but obviously no one in F1 or the FIA wants to be the one who pipes up first and so becomes the focus for ‘blame’ from Bahrain. It will be pulled by the Bahrainis, who will be quietly encouraged to do so, at the last moment just as it was last year. This time, the FIA should respond by suspending the contract and stipulating the reinstatement of the race as dependent on particular conditions not just “next year when things are better”.

    It would be lovely if it were as simple as saying “Bahrain is run by rotters and therefore the GP won’t go ahead” but there is more to it than that. The media fail to recognise that things aren’t always as simple as they like to portray. If anyone in the FIA or senior F1 team figures says anything negative, they will immediately be made the scapegoat for the event not happening, and probably be subject to claims for compensation from Bahrain. That’s not fair or right, but it’s the unfortunate reality. It’s all very well standing outside and saying ‘tut tut’ but as soon as you’re in the position of your statements being acted on, you have to consider other perspectives.

  9. Joe?

    What this about feb 14 coalition sending out a warning to expatriates? source please? Havent heard anything like it.. and I live here!!

    Sounds like hear-say to me from your “high up” friends in Bahrain?

    And not a “group of anti-protestors” that decided to make “freedom square”… it is a coalition of 7 political parties…Which are the spine and heart of the anti-government movement. and more than 10,000 people were there AT LEAST on a nightly basis.. and it was AUTHORIZED by the government. clearly something is going on in the background between the opposition political parties and moderates in the government in order to calm things down a bit and avoid bloodshed…

    As this “Freedom square” gathering prevented a lot of bloodshed by diverting people to an authorized gathering instead of the planned “unauthorized” protest in the center of Manama!

    Sorry to say that unlike your previous articles about Bahrain this one seems to be based on very weak journalism.

    1. Hamad,

      I don’t know who you are, or who you work for, or whether or are just a misguided citizen, but if you are going to attack my journalism I suggest that you do your homework better. The source for the story was Gulf Daily News, which is based in Bahrain and calls itself The Voice of Bahrain. In my experience this publication is very pro-government. It is owned by the Al-Hilal group and has been one of the region’s leading publishing houses for more than 30 years.

      You had better read the story. It is located here:

      Having completely blown your credibility as far as I am concerned I suggest that you keep your opinions to yourself in the future.

      You are a very weak commenter.

      1. BTW the make-shift camp was authorized till wednesday night and was cleared by then, peacefully. Hence giving weight to what most are thinking here that there is secret negotiations of some sort between the opposition and moderates in the royal family in the background.

        Am saddened that you chosed to ignore the information I provided above, no matter how true and factual it is and Instead decided to attack my personality.

        1. I beg your pardon? You abuse me and attack my credibility as a journalist and then get upset when I suggest that you do not know what you are talking about. And I prove it.

          Get lost.

          1. Just to clarify that: I mean it’s a shame that he attacked your journalism, and that as a result you seem to have fallen out.

  10. Hi Joe,

    Good point of view annd rightfully asked. However ther’s an awful lot that needs to be seen and know in order to get the clear picture and a verdict on the situation.

    I’m based in Bahrain and have vested interests in advising foreign and local companies with also special interests in F1 as well.

    Communicate if want to be better advised

    1. and what of the chance of any of the teams or drivers making a stand and refusing to go? Mark Webber and Ross Brawn both made noises about it last time, but haven’t heard anything from anyone this year

      1. What it really needs, rather than a letter to the Times from some peers that no-one has heard of, is for someone in the British government (Hague?) to have the balls to ban British (or British based) teams from competing in sporting events in Bahrain, rather like happened with South Africa in the ’80s. That would take the decision out of the hands of the FIA, although it would most likely end up in a farcical contest between Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Sauber and HRT.

  11. I agree completely with you Joe. Unfortunately you are the only one, as far as I know, of the F1 journos that has raised this point and keeps raising it. The rest just relays the news without any comments (BBC included).

    @David: I’m sorry but I think that you criticism on Joe is absolutely misplaced as he is not fabricating a crisis, the crisis is there. F1 is a form of escapism from the real world but here the F1 meets the real crises in the world. So don’t blame the messenger.

    It would be a real shame if the FIA address this situation by ignoring it, at least in public. My guess is that Mosley would have done this differently, but maybe I’m wrong.

  12. Joe: Exceptional analysis of an extremely complex issue. Living in Saudi Arabia and having lived in Bahrain, I know much about a concept called “strategic messaging”. What is the message that F1 wishes to communicate to the world? We know what the Government of Bahrain wants to convey; all is well, come and join us. And some of the opposition knows that they may be handed a “golden egg” to get their message out to the world. I can’t imagine that there will be many people wilIing to attend this year, so what does empty grandstands say to world-wide television audiences. have tossed and turned on this issue…I think it is best to give it another year.

  13. Wasn’t it the Crown Prince of Bahrain who denied the previous FIA President access to his country to attend the F1 Grand Prix in 2008?

    Four years on and the karmic wheel goes full circle…

  14. If one single race fan gets injured or worse yet killed during the Bahrain GP weekend then the responsibilty for that will be soley on the FIA president Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone.

  15. Considering how entrenched Bahrain’s royalty has become with hosting this race and constructing the circuit, there is no place for this level of civil unrest and political turmoil when discussing a Formula 1 race in the same breath. Risk averse is the only course here. Formula 1 and the Al Khalifa family have already proven they can take the financial hit for a season. Does the FIA really want to jeopardize other Middle Eastern venues and interests if Bahrain is handled poorly?

  16. My feeling is that we are in the same situation as last year, the FIA don’t want to risk going , but dont want to cancel the race and lose the fee. I believe the Bahrainis cancelled the event last year, therefore having to pay the race fee anyway. I think that FOM and the FIA would like this to happen again, and so we have to go through the tiresome charade of waiting to see who blinks first. This does the sport no favours, the FIA should just forget about the money and say the race is cancelled.

  17. Joe,

    Thank you for another interesting article on this subject.

    It is a shame that other F1 people do not appear to be giving this subject an airing.

    Keep up the good work

  18. Why oh why does F1 persist in holding a race on a crap track in a country that is so blatantly abusing it’s citizens.

    How stupid does Ecclestone think we are ? ‘It’s the country with the least problems’ or whatever his quote was – so that makes it ok Bernie ? How about we hold a little sunday drivers jaunt in Syria ? President Assad could wave the chequered flag perhaps ? Just give up the race for good, there are plenty more countries who would hold a race on (hopefully) more exciting circuits – Bahrain Needs F1, F1 doesn’t need Bahrain.
    Surely the F1 teams (ie car companies) can’t have that huge a market in Bahrain, with the exception of Ferrari ? Ohh.. hang on, that might explain a bit..

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