Formula 1: Will Bahrain GP Be Cancelled? Ecclestone, Globalization and Politics

Daniel ZylberkanCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2011

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 23:  F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone (R) is seen with Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Bahrain's crown prince and chairman of the economic and development board during previews to the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 23, 2009 in Sakhir, Bahrain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Since January, incredible events have changed the status quo of Western politics towards the Middle East, its people, and, more important, its rulers, who more often than not are "tyrants" or repressive authoritarians who are supported only because of strategic reasons.

This was the case with Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. 

In the case of Bahrain, the United States government supports the king mainly because of Bahrain's oil reserves, the fact that NAVCENT (US 5th Fleet) headquarters are in Bahrain and because the king and the elite are a Sunni in a Shi'a majority country, which is a key to stemming Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf region.

But now the country's Shi'a majority are revolting against the Sunni government and royal family. These protests have been met with great force by Bahrain's police and army, who have openly shot at protesters—a scene entirely different from Tahrir Square, where the army and the protesters stood together.

But the violence has ended according to the latest news reports, with the king and the crown prince calling for talks between all sides.

What caused this sudden change in the government? Why are they so open to talks now when for the past week they had no problem shooting at protesters?

The answers are Formula 1 and Bernie Ecclestone, and the money Formula 1 brings to the country.

We're living in a globalized world, and Bernie Ecclestone has realized this better than anybody seizing the opportunity to hold Grand Prix from Istanbul to South Korea and from Malaysia to Bahrain. 

Formula 1 is capitalizing on the economic power of emerging markets and oil-rich states.

But a Grand Prix's host country also benefits, by bringing primarily tourism and other moneys to their local economies.

In 2008 alone it was reported that the Bahrain Grand Prix brought over $540 million into the local economy.  Politics is about power, and ultimately the only thing that can assure power is money.

Money is power, in other words, and that's what Formula 1 brings to a country.

The political situation caused the GP2 Asia series to cancel the Bahrain round of its championship that was to be held this weekend. While not nearly as big of a financial boon as the entirety of the Formula 1 circus coming to town, GP2 must still draw enough people and money to the country that the race's cancellation will hurt Bahrain's economy.

On Saturday, Ecclestone asked the royal family to make the call if the race should be held or not instead of forcing the FIA to make the decision to not allow Formula 1 to have its opening round on the island kingdom. 

Within hours of this statement by the Formula 1 supremo, Bahrain's government changed its attitude towards the protesters, stating it will not crack down on the protests as it has done in the last few days.

Further, the government has called for "dialogue" in the king's own words and he has allowed for the crown prince to hold meetings about the political situation.

This was a political tactic that was made to stabilize the country and end the violence in the streets that had the British Foreign Office calling for a stop to all non-essential travel to Bahrain. Such a warning would make all Formula 1 personnel have to rethink going to such a dangerous place only for motor racing. 

No more shooting in the streets and the appearance of democratic progress will surely calm down international pressure on the regime and allow for Formula 1 to return.

That would allow the king, his family and his ministers to make a lot of money while nothing really changes for the better for Bahrain's people.

Globalization and manifestations of it such as Formula 1 can have the appearance (if not the effect) of changing a governments behaviors or policies.

As a matter of fact economics, free trade and tourism have led to more peace than the UN has or ever will. A nation doesn't fight wars with trading partners its just bad business. 

So while democracy may not come to Bahrain because of Formula 1, at least it stopped some of the bloodshed and led to dialogue instead of violence.