Members of the British Parliament have waded into the debate over the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix, with arguments both for and against a possible cancellation of this year’s race in the wake of the latest round of violence in the island kingdom. What is even more interesting is the arms deal that the British government has with Bahrain…
The latest round of violence – exactly one year after the ‘Day of Rage’ which forced the cancellation of last year’s race – does not bode well at all for this year’s race, which is slated to be the fourth round of the championship season.
Accurate and independent reporting of what is actually happening in the country is proving increasingly difficult, with incoming international journalists being denied entry visas, while those who are in the country are being kicked out. Silencing the international media does rather negate the purpose of even staging a Grand Prix in the country, particularly given that it’s meant to attractive positive publicity for the nation.
But representatives of the British government have argued that the race should go ahead. Conservative MP Conor Burns and Labour MP Thomas Docherty – respectively the chairman and vice-chairman UK-Bahrain All-Party Parliamentary Group, a group dedicated to developing “friendship and understanding between our countries and to promote mutual economic and political aims” – have written a letter to the Times newspaper, suggesting that a postponement of the race would be a bad idea.
Among the pair’s many points, they cite the country’s apparently improving position on human rights and the need for a return to a tourism-focused economy as reasons for the race to go ahead.
The pair seems to be ignorant of the facts that tourism is (understandably) in the doldrums, most foreign journalists aren’t being allowed into the country, and are also choosing not to acknowledge that, all the while, the British government has continued to sell arms to the Bahrain government, despite its oppressive crackdown against its own citizens.
A report in today’s Sydney Morning Herald confirmed that the British government approved the sale of £1 million worth of military equipment shortly after the ‘Day of Rage’ clashes last year.
The cache included licences for weapon sights, rifles, artillery and parts for military training aircraft, along with naval guns and components for detecting and jamming improvised explosive devices.
The government did eventually elect to scrap its sales of military equipment to the governments of Bahrain, Egypt and Libya – which all used weaponry against its citizens during last year’s ‘Arab Spring’ uprising – but that it continued to export arms to Saudi Arabia, which sent a significant number of troops to Bahrain to support the country’s security forces.
Why on earth Formula 1 is still considering attempting to return to Bahrain is beyond the logic of many motorsport journalists and commentators, this website included. The sport is not in a position to solve the country’s problems, and the staging of a race is a clear invitation for trouble.
A lot more ground needs to be covered in Bahrain for the good of everyone in the country. Proper democratic processes would be a start.
But that should not involve Formula 1. Authorities need to get the country running properly and affording equal rights to all of the country’s citizens before Formula 1 should even consider a return.