Why Formula One should not have raced in Bahrain

Doug Patient offers his opinion on the controversy surrounding Formula One traveling to Bahrain.

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Formula One went to Bahrain last weekend (20-22nd) amidst a storm of controversy. The race was cancelled last year after protests had made the region unsafe. But this year, with protests against the government continuing to rage, Formula One still turned up in the troubled country to race.

I want to propose three reasons why Formula One should not have raced in Bahrain.


Firstly, and probably the most obvious, is the moral reason. The week before the race, a fifteen year old Bahraini boy was shot. This seemed to not phase the Formula One ruling powers, who turned a blind eye to the violence and injustice by letting the race go ahead.


On Saturday, news was filtering through that a protestor had died after being shot in the chest with a birdshot fired by a shotgun. Surely no one can argue that the moral thing to do would have been to call the race off. But no, the blind eye remained turned and the race went ahead as planned.

Next up is the issue of safety. On the Wednesday before the weekend, Force India’s team was narrowly missed by a petrol bomb on their way back to their hotel. This resulted in them making the decision to skip Second Practice on Friday, so they could get back to their hotel before dark. The next day, twelve Sauber mechanics avoided a road fire set by demonstrators.


Indeed, it was remarkable that no one was hurt, or that a demonstrator did not manage to disrupt the race itself. This was perhaps decided by the fact the track is located in the desert, around two miles from the nearest town, Zallaq, and security was airtight. But all they needed was one slip up and one or more members of the Formula One circus could have been hurt.


Lastly, I cannot fail to bring up the view that has been circulating by some, that politics and sport are not linked. This is wrong. Throughout history, politics and sport have been intertwined. We could cite the infamous 1936 Olympics, used by the Nazis as propaganda for Aryan domination.


In this case, the race has been located in Bahrain since 2004, as a P.R. stunt by the ruling Sunni royal family, to give their regime prestige and legitimation. Formula One should not be seen as supporting dictators, but unfortunately, by going forward with the race, they are effectively legitimising the reign of the royal family of Bahrain.


This debacle has damaged the reputation of Formula One. The ruling powers of the sport had the power to make a statement by cancelling the race, but the reaction was only denial and silence. It was a pathetic sight to see cars driving around the track when there was violence and unrest on the streets. Sometimes doing nothing is a crime in itself.