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Formula One in Bahrain

April 19, 2012

In the face of huge protests Bahrain's regime is allowing Sunday's Formula One race to go ahead. Both the regime and Formula One are doing themselves a huge disservice, argues DW's Daniel Scheschkewitz.


A deeply divided country will be hosting Formula One on April 22. Since protests in Bahrain began in February 2011, nearly 50 people have died in the skirmishes between the mainly Sunni-supported authorities and the Shiite-dominated opposition.

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa imposed martial law and brutally oppressed the uprising with the help of Saudi Arabia. Numerous activists have been in custody since then - some of them have entered life-threatening hunger strikes. Members of the Shiite majority of the population suffer most from social exclusion and political repression.

In the past few days, people have been taking to the streets in Bahrain once again to protest against the government and the ruling dynasty. The protests are mainly taking place in the strictly sealed off villages outside of the capital Manama, where the Shiite majority of the population mainly live.The opposition has called the protests "Days of Rage." But they are not aimed against participants of the race, but rather against the regime, which is attempting to escape its international isolation by hosting this medial mega-event.

This is not preventing the ruling family-controlled authorities from taking violent action against demonstrators ahead of the event. Yes, it even gives the state apparatus a cynical pretense for its brutal action. After all, the protesters have to be kept away from the Formula One route and the security of the Grand Prix race ensured. If those racing engines don't rev up, millions of sponsor's funds are in danger. Security forces are apparently willing to stop at nothing to see to this. For days, a wave of arrests rolled through the small, but strategically significant country. According to the opposition, even the Formula One building was misused ahead of the race for torture purposes.

Scheschkewitz, Daniel.DW, Deutsche Welle
DW's Daniel ScheschkewitzImage: DW

It borders on contempt to hold such a sports event under these circumstances. Last year, the race in Manama was cancelled due to the severe riots. Security concerns were too great. This time, the sport's governing body FIA ruled otherwise. The financial dependence on the ruling family is apparently too great. The organizers are therefore holding out their hand to a repressive dictator, as the conditions in Bahrain have not changed at all in this time. No one was held to account for the bloody crushing of the protests last spring. The national dialogue, formed out of international pressure, equaled a farce. In Bahrain, human rights continue to be violated. A report released this week by Amnesty International rules out the slightest of doubts.

The opposition wants to use the Grand Prix to draw the world's attention to the serious violations of human rights and the injustice in the country. This is all too understandable in view of the ruling conditions in Bahrain. A clash of interests is programmed. The regime will take the most severe stance against demonstrators in order to ensure a smooth race and the security of all participants. The top class Formula One is supposed to become a trouble-free PR campaign for Bahrain and its elite. Hardly any other sports event would be better-suited than this one, with its ample sponsoring funds and the enormous prestige associated with motor racing.

The hopes of the Formula One organizers that the race could also have a positive impact on the human rights situation in the country has proven to be illusory at other major sporting events in the past. In hindsight, the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, for example, did nothing to improve the human rights situation in China. Seen from that angle, Formula One should have taken a wide detour around Bahrain this year, as well.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge