Tuesday, 17 April 2012

That Bahrain Race

In my last post, I briefly eluded to the latest controversy in F1; that of whether the F1 circus should be making its way to Bahrain given the difficulties currently faced there. There's been no end of coverage in the media about this point, with different outlets giving different views on why F1 should or shouldn't attend this weekend.

Last week, Bernie Ecclestone met with the teams to discuss the race after the FIA had previously stated that everything would be going ahead. Sure enough, after the meeting Bahrain was confirmed as going ahead, prompting criticism from some.

There are a lot of media outlets discussing the ethical issues surrounding attendance in Bahrain. I'm obviously not an expert on the situation in the country, but I can see the point of those citing this reason for cancelling the race. There are massive human rights issues in Bahrain, something which I'm sure most people want to see changed. It's obviously unacceptable that people in the country are being treated poorly, and it should be a matter of importance to rectify this. However, I'm in disagreement with many who claim that F1 should abandon the race on these moral grounds. Personally, I'm with Bernie Ecclestone et al. who state that F1 is a sport, and as such should not be involved in the political debates of the country. Yes, F1 does bring benefits to the countries it visits by way of tourism and so on, however I disagree that F1 itself can be a catalyst for political reforms.

Because of the events in Bahrain making the issue of human rights more salient, a lot of people have been talking about F1's presence in China - another country with problematic human rights issues. People have questioned whether it is morally right for F1 to take place in countries which treat their citizens poorly, and it's right to question these points and get an insight into the politics of a country. However, politics is just that. It's not the place for a sport to try and reform a country by protesting and withdrawing. Reforms should be left to people in places of authority - governments and such. While Bernie Ecclestone undoubtedly has power and influence, this influence does not - and should not - extend into the range of changing a country. The attendance of F1 in a country with poor human rights records does not mean that the sport is an advocate of this country's mode of operation, it simply means that a sporting event is going to take place. As such, I'm not wholly swayed by the argument against Bahrain on moral grounds.

What I am more concerned with is the safety of the people who will be in attendance of the race - not just teams, but spectators, officials, caterers and so on. Mark Webber summed this up nicely when speaking to the BBC - there is always large security precautions for the teams and drivers, however it's also important to protect everyone else in attendance at the race. There has clearly been unrest in Bahrain, leading to violence and injury. These outcomes are intolerable for anyone to experience, and so I would question whether it's right that F1 should attend if there is a large risk of the event becoming a target. 

Of course, at any event there are security issues. Red Bull announced after the meeting with Bernie Ecclestone that their security would be tightened at Bahrain, however that this was not far removed from the security provided for any other race. Any large event is going to appear to be a target for violence, and the situation in Bahrain is just enhancing that. However there's no reason why the event shouldn't take place providing that precautions are taken and the whole thing stays safe.

Ultimately, the FIA has taken the decision to hold the race, and everyone has to accept that judgement. Bernie Ecclestone stated that nobody was forced to take part in the event if they genuinely had concerns (although he also reminded everyone that all teams were bound to a contract stating they had to take part in all events on the calendar, so this point is arguably dubious), and all teams have been consulted. Nobody wants anyone to be at risk during a sporting event, and it's up to the officials to make sure that risks of all sorts are minimised. If the FIA honestly believed that there were huge safety implications to racing in Bahrain then we can safely assume that the event would have been cancelled. As for the moral issues in the country, well I'm sorry but this has little to do with F1 or any other sport (let's not forget the large golfing tournament taking place in Bahrain as well). While ethical problems are damnable, it's up to politicians and the like to fix them - not F1 teams. Providing the situation in Bahrain doesn't worsen, in all likelihood we'll be watching the racing action this weekend. Hopefully it will be another memorable race, but let's hope that's for the on-track racing than for any other reason.