Damon Hill, the ex-F1 driver, has written piece in the Guardian about F1’s decision to go ahead with the GP in Bahrain. I’m not sure what he’s trying to say, but I think it comes down to ‘things would’ve been worse if it had been cancelled’.
After a bit of preamble about how F1 is the ‘bad boy’ of sport for various reasons, including money, spying, cheating, Damon says this…
Formula One does not, cannot, and has never existed in total isolation from the general concerns of humanity. In this sense, the sport is always on the edge of politics. The moment something becomes an issue for all of us, it is a political issue. So the question is this; is the Bahrain Grand Prix now an issue for all of us? Or is it more accurate to ask; are Bahraini politics an issue for all of us?
Sport, is and it isn’t political. Sportsmen and women always say they don’t want to get involved, they just want to run around and win their medal or laurels or whatever shiny bits they get handed after going faster, higher, further than anyone else.
I think sport becomes political when it goes international, no matter how hard the team/event/governing body tries to keep out of it.
You can have domestic competitions and it’s just between yourselves. As soon as you have an international event, the competitors are approving you. They are saying ‘You’re ok, we don’t mind being associated with you.’
The bigger, more prestigious the event, the bigger the stamp of approval.
The Bahrain Grand Prix isn’t an issue for all of us. It makes no odds tome if the F1 circus goes to Bahrain. It should matter to the F1 people. Do you really want to be associated with that type of regime? Do you really want to lend your credibility as a respectable sport to such a regime as that?
Bahraini politics is an issue for all of us. Everyone that cares about their fellow man at least. The same applies to China, Syria, Burma and all the rest.
The critical question for F1 is whether it has made the right decision to insist on returning to Bahrain in these times. There are three main considerations for the FIA to make; security, politicisation, and the reputation of its blue riband event, F1.
On security, they insist that it is satisfactory, having consulted the people responsible and after taking advice at the highest level. But they do not deny that there is a risk.
Security should be the last question asked, not the first. If the answer to the other questions lead you to conclude that it is ok for F1 to go to Bahrain, then you ask ‘is it safe’.
On whether the FIA event is being conscripted into a political battle to support one side over the other, it is not clear. Many say that this is how it looks. The event is subtitled as UniF1ing Bahrain, so strictly speaking it is trying to appear to be good for the whole nation of Bahrain. The trouble is there are many Bahrainis who disagree about what is good for Bahrain, hence their calls for democracy.
F1 might not be conscripted, but in going ahead with the GP it is being a useful idiot. “uniF1ing Bahrain” may sound good, and it might work in a country that isn’t experiencing all the upheaval Bahrain is. In Bahrain though, it is a political message. The equivalent of ‘we can’t we all get along’. Even if the whole country loved Formula 1, a mutual love of the sport isn’t going to stop peaceful protest being dispersed with live ammunition. It’s a distraction.
Article 1 of the FIA statutes says: “The FIA shall refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect.” So far it has not manifested anything other than a desire for the race to take place. However, could holding a race that is becoming a divisive issue for a country, if not for the sport also, constitute “taking action in this respect”?
Well, seeing as this race cannot take place without the sanction of the government, I don’t see how it cannot be political. F1 will be bringing money and cedibility to a brutal regime.
A problem in the lead-up to this event was the apparent collusion of Formula One with the promoters in promulgating the view that Bahrain only had a small issue with a few unruly youths. This I regarded as a very clear case of understatement. It was the view of Bahrain that Bahrain would like the world to buy. And it was going to use F1 to help it. This was the point at which I expressed my concerns about this situation. For me, the FIA was dangerously close to appearing totally naive, misinformed or, worse, taking the side that would like to underplay the humanitarian, social and security situation in Bahrain. Sure enough, the international community has had quite a lot to say about what is going on in Bahrain since. This was so inevitable that I am still trying to understand why the FIA did not take the initiative by making at least some comment that indicated it understood the difficulty of the situation.
Jean Todt, the president of the FIA, has been consistent in taking the stance of not saying anything that could be construed as political. So he has said next to nothing.
This I find baffling. Surely it is possible to condemn acts of inhumanity without taking a side?
No, is the simple answer. If you condemn the act, you are implicitly, if not explicitly condemning the actor. That is why Jean Todt has said nothing. If he condemn acts of inhumanity by the rulers of Bahrain, that is millions of lost dollars for F1. Everything has a price.
The Khalifas asked for the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) themselves. Is it political to avoid religious, political and racial discrimination? Surely these are universal human values?
Cherif Bassiouni, the chairman of the BICI, managed to do the report and advocate the GP went ahead for the overarching good of the people. He wrote to Todt in February saying: “Aside from the economic, publicity and public relations advantages that the grand prix brings to Bahrain, it is, on this one-year anniversary of the February-March events of last year, an important point of departure for the people of Bahrain to forge ahead in their national efforts towards reconciliation.”
The people of Bahrain would find it a lot easier to reconciliate with the government if the latter weren’t so, erm, oppressive. Because if this continued oppression, the Bahrain government sees the arrival of the GP as A Good Thing for the reasons Bassiouni gives above, especially the PR value the GP gives them.
At the centre is this extraordinary man, Bernie Ecclestone, who few dare to publicly disagree with. Perhaps we should, instead of just muttering under our breath, scared of losing our passes.
Yes, Damon. Yes you should.
But the problem is also, quite often, he is absolutely right, despite his pithy way of communicating. Take this quote: “Do you think that if we cancel the Formula One that all the problems will just disappear?” The answer to that is clearly: “No. They wouldn’t.” They would just be starting.
The problems are there whether F1 is there or not. If Formula One does go though, the Bahrain regime wouldn’t benefit from the credibility of being able to say “How bad can we be? Everything is fine. Look, we’re even hosting major sporting events.”
The problems wouldn’t disappear, but F1 wouldn’t be part of the problem.
Frank Gardner, security correspondent for the BBC, has said some in Bahrain feel that “if the grand prix were to be called off then the Sunni community would be so enraged it would be harder than ever to bridge the gap between government and opposition.” I think that rather confirms the view of Bahrain as more than a little tense and that the issue is not so simple as it looks.
Doesn’t what Frank Gardener say concern you, Damon? Some people think that if the GP doesn’t go ahead, life could get very difficult for a section of the population. Doesn’t that tell something about the regime? Isn’t that enough of a reason to say “y’know what? i don’t what to be associated with these bullies.”
How does that make you feel, knowing that if you don’t race, teh proverbial kitteh gets it?
Above all, it’s the FIA/F1’s choice. At best hosting F1 will do no harm. At worst, the F1 will be giving respectability to a regime that doesn’t deserve it. If they can live with that, then fine.
The real reason F1 is going to Bahrain, and let’s not be shy about this, is money. As i said earlier, everything and everyone has a price.