Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Bahrain Grand Prix: This is politics not sport. If drivers can't see that, they are the pits

Supposing it was Assad shelling out £40m for a race. Would Ecclestone be happy to give him a soft sporting cover for his repression?

Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are among the drivers competing in the Bahrain Grand Prix
McLaren driver Jenson Button is among those taking part in the Bahrain Grand Prix

When the Foreign Office urges British motor racing fans to stay away from Bahrain, this ain't no sporting event, folks, it's a political one.

The Bahraini authorities prove it by welcoming sports reporters but refusing visas to other correspondents who want to tell the world what's going on in this minority-run, Saudi-dominated kingdom.



But what do our lads tell us from the circuit, 25 miles from the Bahraini capital, Manama? Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are only in it for sport. Bahraini repression of its democratic majority? Nothing to do with us, governor. And Sebastian Vettel? "I think it's a lot of hype." Hype? HYPE? The Arab Awakening came to Bahrain a year ago, a majority Shia people demanding a democratically elected government – with a minority Sunni monarch still at its head, for heaven's sake, as generous an Arab Spring as you could find – and it's met with police gunfire, torture and death. And Master Vettel – is there anything left of the old cliché "moral compass"? – claims "it's a lot of hype". What a disgraceful man.



Supposing it was the Assad regime shelling out $40m to host the Formula One weekend (as well as shelling Homs). Would Bernie Ecclestone have been dining out in Damascus, happy to give the regime a soft sporting cover for its oppression? At least he seems to have some idea what is going on there. Sure, I know, the Bahrainis are not slaughtering their people like the Assad government. And there's no armed rebellion in Bahrain, as there is in Syria (although all year the Bahrainis have been doing their best to persuade us that there is). Or Iran. Now here's a Muslim nation that pretty much crushed all opposition in 2009. It's not doing any more killing. So would Bernie slip over to Tehran to do a bit of Formula One if he got the invitation?



Or – a much easier one, this – what if Bahrain was oppressing a Jewish rather than a Muslim Shia community demanding democracy? Messrs Button and Hamilton and Ecclestone – not to mention the clueless Vettel – would be shouting their refusal to participate from the rooftops. And rightly so. So why do they want to go ahead now? Why is it "a lot of hype" when Vettel knows – unless he's a complete git – that the Bahraini government's own report on last year's suppression describes deaths in custody, police torture and shooting deaths on the streets? Note that I haven't mentioned apartheid-era South Africa, nor the Berlin Olympics, which gave cover to Hitler. Bahrain is not South Africa, nor is it Nazi Germany (and those who use such parallels are gits themselves).



The days have gone when sportsmen and sportswomen can dissociate themselves from the moral values in which we claim to believe in the 21st century. If they want to behave like the sporting clods of 50 years ago, they should be forced to drive round the Bahrain circuit in Alfa Romeo 6Cs, Triumph Roadsters and Crosley Hotshots. Cars of the past for men of the past.

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