Formula One: FIA's Bahrain Decision Wrong. Morally, Politically and for Safety

Daniel ZylberkanCorrespondent IJune 4, 2011

Bernie Ecclestone has embraced the idea of the "emerging market" for his strategy for the expansion of Formula One in the 21st century. Since the first Malaysian Grand Prix in 1999 to the introduction of the Korean and Indian Grand Prix in 2010 and 2011.

The majority of new races added to Formula One calendar have either been in the "Pacific Rim" and more importantly to this discussion the Middle East. With the addition of the Bahrain, Turkish and Abu Dabhi races since 2004.

I argue that by the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone giving countries in "emerging markets" and especially the Gulf oil monarchies of Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix they are giving tacit approval of their policies especially their economic and social policies.

The crisis in Bahrain, which was precipitated by the situations in Tunisia and Egypt have brought the grievances of the Shi'a minority against the interests of the ruling Sunni elite and especially that of the king and the royal family. 

As I said in a previous article that in "2008 alone it was reported that the Bahrain Grand Prix brought over $540 million into the local economy."  Formula One serves the interest of the monarchy and the ruling elite and is completely in opposition to what would be beneficial to the Shi'a majority which is clamoring for a political voice in Bahrain's autocracy.

In a statement yesterday announcing the return of the Bahrain Grand Prix to the 2011 Formula One calendar the World Motorsport Council said that the "decision reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain, which is evident from the strong support the race receives from the Government and all major parties in Bahrain, including the largest opposition group, all of whom endorse the Formula One Grand Prix."

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But the Shi'a opposition group Wefaq only supports the reinstatement of the Grand Prix in order to force a political compromise as the FIA imposed deadline earlier this year proved. The royal family and the Bahraini economy is so linked to the Grand Prix that it forced the king to give concessions to the Shias back in February.

But on the other hand Nabeel Rajab a Bahraini human rights activist said that he wanted Formula One to return to his home country in order "to expose the human rights violations in Bahrain and let the outside world know what's happening here."

A conclusion that would be embarrassing to the Formula One establishment; the FIA, Bernie Ecclestone and even the teams, who would be seen as supporting the king's and gulf cooperative council's repressive and aggressive policies against the Shia protestors.

Both the opposition and human rights groups don't seem to be as united as the FIA said in its press release on Thursday. There seems to be disagreement in Bahrain that Formula One should return to Sakhir for the race in October.

Ultimately, Formula One especially Bernie Ecclestone needs to make a choice to either side with an autocratic, intolerant and violent petrocracy or with democracy and the will of the Bahraini people.

To me the choice is obvious: Ecclestone must side with the people, unlike Formula One  in the 1980s did when it sided with the government and its policy of Apartheid.

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