Burning Rubber

Yesterday was Earth Day and green is symbolic of both environmentalism and Islam.

So I’m going to recycle some material here.

As one of the pieces I collected for the Bahrain Grand Prix put it, the only image problem Formula One used to have to worry about was its environmental impact.  Now they openly support Mercenaries, Murderers, and Torturers.

If you are interested in the sporting aspect of this weekend’s events I urge you to examine the originals-

If on the other hand you’re more interested in the human rights abuses of the country where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, there was a great deal of attention paid to that question as an unintended consequence of Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Jean Todt, and Bernie Ecclestone’s greed, isolation, and arrogance in staging this event.

While others may not share my sentiments I’d rate it a complete and utter flop as a Public Relations move and as a sporting event.  Even giving away tickets they were unable to fill 50% of the seats and the high profile corporations and celebrities they wanted to attract stayed away in droves.

When I put together stories from secondary sources I attempt to select passages and arrange them so that they create a narrative.  I’ve kept these in their original form and labeled each section.

This one is new-

Post-F1 Bahrain Arrests Journalists and Tortures Activists

By: Siun, Firedog Lake

Sunday April 22, 2012 6:00 pm

During the race, when ten women attempted to hold up pictures of human rights defender, Al Khawaja, they were immediately arrested and there is a confirmed report that one was severely beaten.

Right after the race, when foreign journalists attempted to cover reactions in the Bahraini villages, the journalists too were arrested – along with their local “fixers” and drivers.

Ala’a Shehabi, a British born Bahraini academic who has returned to Bahrain to help in the fight for civil rights and who maintains Bahrain Watch which tracks the monarchy’s performance – or lack of – on it’s promises of reform, was arrested as well. She was traveling with journalists at the time.

Mohammed Hassan, who was arrested after assisting the Dan Rather Report to cover Bahrain and then released, was arrested today while working with another team of foreign journalists. He was beaten quite severely the first time but today released without another beating.

As Channel 4’s Jonathan Miller says in his interview, outside journalists will most likely simply be deported from Bahrain but repercussions for Bahrain citizens who assisted those journalists as well as activists is quite dire. After all, even the monarch’s own “independent” commission last fall reported severe use of torture – for example, see the account of the torture of AlKhawaja from that report here.

Those activists who are not arrested are often seriously injured by the birdshot being used extensively by Bahraini “police” who are mainly mercenary forces from Pakistan. The use of such “birdshot” violates the US “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.”

And of course the Obama administration has refused to stand up for civil rights in Bahrain.

Sunday April 15

So now that we’re in Shanghai, let’s talk about Bahrain.  Not that China doesn’t have an oppressive and violent plutocratic regime, just that 60+ years of totalitarianism detract from the novelty factor.

It was interesting to hear all of the paid shills on Speed begrudgingly opine that they thought next week’s race was a bad idea.  The operative insight was- ‘Everybody’s afraid of the penalties if they don’t honor their contract.’

Ecclestone said there were commercial reasons why teams should take part but admitted he could not force individuals to participate. “We’ve no way we can force people to go there,” he said. “We can’t say ‘you’ve got to go’ – although they would be in breach of their agreement with us if they didn’t go – but it doesn’t help. Commercially they have to go, but whether they decide to or not is up to them.

So the question is if you’re more afraid of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in court than you are of a waiter pissing in your cocktail or blowing himself up in your face.

The place is a powder keg waiting to explode and the fuse is Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who has a 50% chance of martyrdom before the race, a signal even Bernie can’t ignore.

As riot police wage almost daily pitched battles with masked petrol-bomb throwing protesters, analysts say the mainstream opposition may be losing touch with the youth who seek more revolutionary change.

That I think Ecclestone a callous greedy fool and liar is no secret to my readers and I hope that at the very least the negative publicity damages him financially and personally.

Bahrain Grand Prix Splits the Kingdom

By SOUAD MEKHENNET, The New York Times

Published: April 13, 2012

In the street battles that have continued for more than a year, nearly 50 people have died.

Some insist that there is little to worry about regarding Bahrain and the race. John Yates, a former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police in London who have been hired to oversee an overhaul of the Bahrain police force, said that he felt safe in the kingdom. “Indeed, safer than I have often felt in London,” he said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

During an interview, Yates said that tear gas was the only weapon the riot police carried. “They don’t carry any guns, while protesters in the villages are throwing Molotov cocktails and stones,” he said.

“Some people have recently told stories to media that never took place and give the impression that Bahrain is a war zone, and it’s not,” Yates said.

The boss of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone, said Friday in Shanghai, where he was overseeing preparations for the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, that the Bahrain race was definitely going ahead as planned and that all of the teams were “happy” to be going there, The Associated Press reported.

“There’s nothing happening,” Ecclestone said of the situation in Bahrain. “I know people that live there and it’s all very quiet and peaceful.”

Human Rights Watch says this-

“We are looking at a lockdown.  F1 is not my world, but this seems to be a terrible climate in which to hold what is supposed to be a competitive, festive sporting event.  In the circumstances, I don’t know who is going to be having any fun.”

“I think that they [F1] will have some explaining to do,” said Stork (Deputy Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch). “I can easily imagine that the security will be such that you won’t have the race disrupted on the track and I imagine that they can keep that under control.  But if you have a situation where there are demonstrations on a nightly, if not daily basis, clashes with security forces who aren’t known for the most sophisticated crowd control techniques is not going to be good.  It’s not going to be good for Bahrain, it’s not going to be good for F1 either if it happens either during the race or when it’s clear that the demonstrations are primarily aimed at stopping the race.  That’s what the story will be.”

“From the Bahraini government’s point of view, of course,” he said when asked if there were potential benefits to the race going ahead. “They are desperate to make the case that the situation is normal from a security point of view, normal in terms of civil strife, and that it’s one big happy family.

“But the fact is, it’s not normal. I’m not sure that it’s the mission or the mandate of F1 to be participating in these kinds of exercises.”

“The [ruling] Al Khalifa family are desperate for [the grand prix] to happen. But that doesn’t mean that it should happen.”

Saturday April 21

Bahrain is a collection of 33 islands half way up the Saudi side of the Persian Gulf between the Straights of Hormuz and Kuwait/Basra just to the west of the Qatar Peninsula.  It has a certain amount of oil and it is famous for its pearls but a lot of the modern economy is based on tourism because it’s one of the few Arabian countries where you can legally drink.  It’s also a center for International Banking, go figure.

It’s a playground for Petro-Billionaires, a Vice City ruled by the Sunni Bedouin Al Khalifa tribe originally from Kuwait.  The colonialist British established them as the ruling family in the early 1800s and Bahrain is considered a major center of British influence in Arabia, but in fact they frequently rebelled against this role and habitually sought the protection of the Shia Shahs of Iran against them and their other numerous enemies including the Turks, Saudis, and Omanis.

Iran first intervened against Portuguese colonial influence in 1602 and over the next 2 centuries built a solid Shia majority that persists until this day.  In the 1860s Iran was unable to defend Bahrain against British aggression and by 1892 it was a vassal state and broke off all relations with Iran.  In 1911 a sustained rebellion against the British eventually resulted in deposition of Sheikh Issa bin Ali Al Khalifa who changed his mind and had come to support Iranian territorial claims in the face of continued British domination.  The state became a virtual Vice Royalty of Charles Belgrave for 30 years until 1957.

Part of Belgrave’s policy was to encourage sectarian and class divisions between Shia and Sunni, after he was booted Britain “set out to change the demographics of Bahrain.  The policy of ‘deiranisation’ consisted of importing a large number of different Arabs and others from British colonies as labourers.”

Fun place huh?  Can’t wait to party with these guys.

In February 2011 the ‘Pearl Revolution’ was part of the wave of ‘Arab Spring’ revolts.  It was peaceful for exactly 3 days before the police started shooting protesters and when the locals proved insufficient to the task King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, deputy supreme commander of the Bahrain defence force and, as chairman of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports the chief architect the of initiative to bring Formula One racing to Bahrain and build the Bahrain International Circuit, invited Saudi mercenaries in to assist.

Human rights organizations reported that, in the 8 months following the outbreak of protests on 14 February, more than 1,600 peaceful political protesters, medical professionals, journalists, human rights defenders and innocent bystanders had been arrested, and more than 100 people convicted by a special military court established by the government.

On 23 November 2011, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry released its report on human rights violations during the February and March 2011 protests, finding that the government "systematically" tortured prisoners, summarily fired Shi’ite employees and university students, and committed other gross human rights violations.

In 2011 the Formula One race was cancelled due to civil unrest as the medical staff was deployed to treat casualties.  Charitable minds attribute the willingness of the Monarchy to negotiate to the desire to hold the race, but I have no doubt that it also precipitated the initial police violence and the quick resort to foriegn mercenaries.

Things are now no better.  Among the tortured and convicted is Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on a hunger strike since February 8, over 70 days, who is now refusing both IV fluids and water and is likely to die before his next court date this Monday.

Did I mention he’s a Danish citizen?

Thousands of people are in the streets and there are daily and nightly battles between Molotov Cocktail throwing protesters and shotgun and teargas wielding riot police.

On Thursday a van carrying members of the Force India racing team was nearly struck and and another with Sauber crew members witnessed it from a few cars behind.  Force India skipped the 2nd Friday Practice in order to transport its team during daylight.

The theme this year is- “Unif1ed – One Nation in Celebration“.  “I genuinely believe this race is a force for good, it unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities,” says Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.  “For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us … to celebrate our nation as an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive.”

Bahrain braces for wave of F1 protests

Paul Weaver in Manama and Ian Black, Middle East editor, The Guardian

Thursday 19 April 2012 14.05 EDT

A government PR agency distributed comments by a former Wefaq MP, Jasim Husain, who said: “I can tell you that most people in Bahrain are happy and pleased that F1 is back in Bahrain, given its effects on the economy and the social aspects of it. Many are happy and pleased. I see this as a sporting and economic event, rather than a political event. Security has never been a big issue in Bahrain. The protests are very much peaceful; largely people are having political issues which have to be addressed one way or another.”

Unease Surrounds Bahrain Grand Prix

By BRAD SPURGEON, The New York Times

Published: April 19, 2012

The government is attempting to use the Grand Prix to show that life is back to normal in Bahrain, after the race was canceled last year because of unrest. An estimated 40 to 70 people have been killed in Bahrain since the Arab Spring uprisings began in February 2011.

“I am not angry with the government; it’s their future at stake,” said Khadija al-Mousawi, the hunger striker’s wife, one of whose daughters was at a protest in Manama on Wednesday. “What makes me angry is people like Ecclestone who decides to come to Bahrain because he thinks everyone is happy.”

“To what extent did commercial and political interests cloud their judgment?”

Bahrain Grand Prix 2012: city burns but Bernie Ecclestone insists the show must go on

By Tom Cary, F1 Correspondent, The Telegraph

Manama 10:00PM BST 20 Apr 2012

Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s chief executive, and Jean Todt, the president of the governing body, have a lot on the line. Ecclestone, in particular, after 81 years of scrapping his way to a fortune, is used to tough questions but should things go wrong very tough questions will be asked. To what extent did commercial and political interests cloud their judgment?

It is why everyone tried so hard to pass the buck last week, with Ecclestone saying it was up to the teams, the teams saying it was up to the FIA and the FIA saying nothing at all.

Ultimately, however, those two carry the responsibility for Formula One being here. Sure, the teams and drivers and sponsors could have boycotted the race but they, too, rely to a certain extent on the information they receive from above.

Ecclestone was his usual flippant self when asked for his thoughts on events this week. “It’s a lot of nonsense,” he said. “I think you guys want a story, and it’s a good story, and if there isn’t a story you make it up as usual, so what difference?”

The sad thing is this crisis was entirely predictable. Formula One journalists have copped a certain amount of criticism this week for venturing into areas of conflict to ask for people’s thoughts about the race, to try to report on what is happening. For deigning to be reporters, in other words.

What did the Bahraini and Formula One authorities think? That they would sit in their hotels all week, only venturing to the track to talk about rear wings and F-ducts?

In Bahrain, Business Is Not as Usual

By BRAD SPURGEON, The New York Times

Published: April 20, 2012

For the monarchy – and for Formula One – there are also overriding economic concerns. The Grand Prix is the kingdom’s biggest sports event, drawing a worldwide television audience of roughly 100 million in nearly 200 countries, bringing in half a billion dollars in revenue and attracting thousands of visitors. When the race was canceled last year, Bahrain still had to pay Formula One a $40 million “hosting fee.”

So with the world watching and big money at stake, the government has hoped to use the race to demonstrate that life has returned to normal in Bahrain. But the media spotlight on the race in recent weeks has to some extent resulted in the opposite: a closer look at the political situation and the protesters and their claims of human rights abuses.

The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières stopped sending doctors to Bahrain and said that the kingdom’s hospitals were considered so dangerous for the Shiite majority that many injured in protests would not use them.

Amnesty International said in a report that Bahrain was falling deeper into human rights abuses and that if the race was run, it would feed what it called the monarchy’s propaganda aims.

“With the world’s eyes on Bahrain as it prepares to host the Grand Prix, no one should be under any illusions that the country’s human rights crisis is over,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director. “The authorities are trying to portray the country as being on the road to reform, but we continue to receive reports of torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests.”

“The regime was isolated because of the crimes it committed and the Bahrain Grand Prix is giving a way out for the government, especially the royal family,” said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “We need this regime to be punished for the crimes it has committed in the past year and half.”

Shell, a Ferrari sponsor, will not entertain clients and partners.

Bahrain Grand Prix to Go Ahead as Protests Flare


Published: April 20, 2012 at 9:46 PM ET

Manama is under tight security, with dozens of armored vehicles stationed around the capital and the road to the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir. Activists say barbed wire has been installed near some parts of the main highway.

Two of the 12 teams were left rattled after witnessing protesters throwing petrol bombs. Two members of the Force India team went home to Britain although the other team, Sauber, continued with race preparations.

Ahead of Bahrain Grand Prix, Incidents Put Formula One Teams on Edge


April 20, 2012, 1:47 pm

On Wednesday night, a vehicle carrying personnel from the Force India team passed through an area where Molotov cocktails and debris were thrown. According to the BBC, a tear-gas canister fired by the police entered the vehicle. Two Force India employees elected to leave Bahrain ahead of Sunday’s race. Speaking afterward about the incident, the team driver Nico Hulkenberg questioned the decision of Formula One authorities to race in such a volatile climate, saying that teams “shouldn’t have been put in this position.”

Speaking of the earlier incident involving Force India, the crown prince deflected the notion that Formula One teams were being targeted. “I absolutely can guarantee that any problems that may or may not happen are not directed at F1,” he said. “It goes to show that there are people who are out to cause chaos.”

“It is why everyone tried so hard to pass the buck last week, with Ecclestone saying it was up to the teams, the teams saying it was up to the FIA and the FIA saying nothing at all.”

Bernie Ecclestone: ‘not in my power to call off Bahrain Grand Prix’

The Guardian

Friday 20 April 2012 09.29 EDT

With Sauber now also confirming that some of their personnel witnessed an incident involving masked protesters on Thursday night as they returned to Manama, Ecclestone said it was not in his power to cancel the race.

“I can’t call this race off. It is nothing to do with us, the race,” he said according to a report on the Autosport website. “We are here, we have an agreement to be here and we are here. The national sporting authority in this country can ask the FIA if they want to call the race off.”

Ecclestone said he did not understand why Force India was so worried about safety – and that he had personally offered to drive with the team from the circuit if they wanted reassurance.

“They have asked and been told they can have security if they want it,” he said. “I don’t know if people are targeting them for some reason, I don’t know – I hope not because none of the other teams seem to have a problem.

“So maybe they have had a message and are being targeted for something – it may be nothing to do with being in this country, maybe it is something else.”

Archie Bland: Why won’t Bernie Ecclestone lead by example in Bahrain?

Archie Bland, Deputy Editor, The Independent

Wednesday 18 April 2012

What Ecclestone and Co apparently fail to appreciate is that doing nothing can be just as meaningful an act as making a fuss. In Bahrain, as in South Africa during the apartheid years, the options aren’t a powerful political statement vs a position of strict neutrality; instead, the two options are equally forceful.

By pulling Formula One out of Bahrain for a second year, Mr Ecclestone and his colleagues would be sending a signal that the country is still in crisis. That’s a position strongly reinforced by an Amnesty International report earlier this week. Doing nothing, by extension, makes the opposite statement.

Since last year Formula One deemed a race in Bahrain would be a bad idea, the decision to go ahead this time implies that things are getting better. Max Mosley, a former Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile president, gets it: the Bahraini authorities, he wrote in The Daily Telegraph, “hope to show the world that the troubles were just a small, temporary difficulty… By agreeing to race there, Formula One becomes complicit in what happened.”

“What did the Bahraini and Formula One authorities think? That they would sit in their hotels all week, only venturing to the track to talk about rear wings and F-ducts?”

Bahrain Grand Prix revs up polarisation of Gulf state

Ian Black, Middle East editor, The Guardian

Friday 20 April 2012 09.15 EDT

For the government in Manama, the message was one of business as usual as the engines revved up: “The long wait is over,” announced an excited statement from its information affairs authority. “The region’s biggest sporting and social spectacle is finally here!” Not, however, for the foreign journalists – not motor racing correspondents – who were turned away at the airport or denied visas to enter the country.

Manama has been able to count on the acquiescence of governments and the active support of others. US and British PR companies are working overtime to get across the official point of view. “Imagine if a British police chief was in Damascus dumping on the protest movement in Syria,” said the Labour MP Denis MacShane of the security role of former Metropolitan police assistant commissioner John Yates. “There is a complete double standard when it comes to Bahrain.”

Protesters are seeking democracy, but there is an unavoidable sectarian aspect to the conflict in a small country where the ruling dynasty is Sunni and the majority of its subjects are Shia Muslims who are under-represented and face discrimination in all walks of life. In recent days regime thugs have been caught on camera trashing Shia-owned shops while policemen stood by.

F1 grand prix: Bahrain denies entry to journalists

Mark Sweney, The Guardian

Friday 20 April 2012 12.29 EDT

Journalists who have been refused entry include Stuart Ramsay, chief correspondent at Sky News, who is being forced to file coverage from Dubai.

He has been prevented from entering Bahrain despite Sky Sports, like Sky News owned by BSkyB, providing exclusive live TV coverage of Sunday’s controversial Grand Prix to UK viewers. Sky Sports signed a seven-year deal to broadcast live TV coverage of every Formula One race from this season.

Bahrain Grand Prix 2012: authorities refusal to allow news media into the kingdom causes uproar

By Tom Cary, The Telegraph

Manama 12:26AM BST 20 Apr 2012

Ramsey’s struggles are ironic given the fact that Sky Sports has just started a seven-year deal channel-sharing deal with the BBC to cover Formula One in the UK.

It is understood that neither BBC Sport nor Sky Sports will address the off-track issues in Bahrain in their coverage this weekend, with BBC News and Sky News to cover that angle. Assuming they can get in, of course.

Some other links I found

Sunday April 22

Well I’ve been covering the protests for 2 weeks now and it looks like they’re going to race anyway.

Here are the latest developments-

Bahrain analysis: how Formula One plan may have backfired for Gulf kingdom’s ruling family

By Rosamund De Sybel in Manama and Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph

8:55PM BST 21 Apr 2012

(B)y persuading the sport’s governing authority to stage the race, cancelled last year, the ruling family sought to show that the recent upheaval was over. Officials came up with the slogan “UniF1ed” had hoped that Bahrain’s showcase event would deflate the Shia street protests that had campaigned so vocally for its cancellation.

Yet the opposite seems to have happened, with the questionable nature of the regime’s triumph exposed by the thousands of demonstrators who gathered on Friday and Saturday, the first two of three “days of rage”, to denounce the ruling family.

Protest leaders had feared that the roar of the racing cars’ engines would drown out their grievances. If anything, however, the race has rejuvenated their flagging campaign.

Friday’s protests were among the largest in recent months. Had the race been cancelled, the turnout may well have been far smaller.

Despite the regime’s efforts to ban non-sports journalists — reporters from Sky News, The Financial Times and Reuters, among others, were denied entry into Bahrain — the race has also refocused international attention on the Gulf Kingdom.

Bahrain’s Formula One Gala Not Going as Planned


Published: April 20, 2012

Instead, the opposite seems to be happening. While Bahraini officials vow that the Grand Prix will be held as planned on Sunday, Shiite opposition groups and rights organizations have denounced the race as a public relations stunt that has sought to mask what they call the monarchy’s failures to address causes of political discontent here.

“It’s definitely backfired on them,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch in New York, said in a telephone interview. “It seems like their main focus is managing this as a P.R. exercise, but it’s impossible to repress the reality, which is that there is a great simmering discontent.”

In a more aggressive punctuation of the point, the activist group Anonymous hacked the official Formula One Web site for a few hours on Friday. Visitors to the site encountered a message castigating Bahrain’s government and the racing organization and urging people to oppose the race. “The Formula One racing authority was well aware of the Human Rights situation in Bahrain and still chose to contribute to the regime’s oppression of civilians and will be punished,” the message read.

Formula 1 Racers, and Protestors, Get Ready for Bahrain’s Big Day

By Aryn Baker, Time Magazine

April 21, 2012

As the protests escalate, and the crackdown becomes more violent, there have been several calls for a last minute cancelation of the event. That would set a terrible, and possibly terrifying, precedent for the upcoming Olympics in London. The reality is, the F1 should never have been allowed to return to Bahrain in the first place. Never mind the fact that race organizers, and the Bahrain government, seem to have underplayed the level of violence in the country-after all, protests have been going on almost every night for the past year-but does Bahrain actually deserve to host the F1?

Last November the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a government funded but independent investigative body, released its findings on the February 2011 uprising and the subsequent crackdown. The report cited a litany of graphic human-rights violations, including systematic torture, unlawful detention, excessive and indiscriminate use of force, night raids designed to “create fear,” workplace purges of protest participants, sexual abuse, the threat of rape along with beatings and the administration of electric shocks to elicit confessions, and the destruction of religious sites that “give the impression of collective punishment.”

A Formula One race too far as sport and politics collide in Bahrain

Paul Weaver, The Guardian

Saturday 21 April 2012 18.00 EDT

I feel a pebble under my foot, but when I look it is a small, black rubber bullet. Ominously, there are also larger bullets, the size of broad beans, at the demo site. According to my guide, the police come in, even after peaceful protests, and shoot tear gas and rubber bullets to remind everyone in this troubled Gulf state who is really in charge.

There are a few hundred protesters in this demo and, as things get nasty, we are hurried to a rooftop before the police break it up. More tear gas. More rubber bullets. I feel more like a war correspondent than a sportswriter, but since only the latter have visas I am in the thick of it.

Bahrain protester found dead on eve of grand prix

Jo Adetunji, Peter Beaumont and agencies, The Guardian

Saturday 21 April 2012 10.30 EDT

Bahraini authorities confirmed on Saturday that the dead man was Salah Abbas Habib. It said in a statement that the 36-year-old had suffered a wound to his left side and the case was being treated as a homicide.

The opposition group al-Wefaq said Habib’s body was found on the roof of a building after he and other protesters were beaten by riot police who suppressed a demonstration in the village of Shakhura late on Friday night. They released a photograph of Habib’s blood-covered body on a corrugated iron roof. He was apparently found wearing a teargas mask. Reports suggested he had been shot.

Deadly protests mar Bahrain Grand Prix

By Al Jazeera Staff

Sat, 2012-04-21 13:20.

It’s still unclear whether he died in the clashes that broke up that demonstration, or whether he was killed in the night of village skirmishes that followed.

There is an even more sinister rumour circulating: that he was snatched by police, died in their custody, and his body was dumped on the roof in the hours of darkness.

But regardless of how Salah died, the claim of many Shia protesters that Formula One is racing on their blood becomes harder to argue against.

Further protests from Bahrain’s restive Shia population are planned this weekend, including one near the Sakhir race track on Sunday.

Violence will almost certainly accompany them. Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s ruling king, has insisted from the get-go that Bahrain is a safe country to race in.

If Salah could still speak, he would probably tell you it’s not such a safe country to live in.

Protests, clashes, death cast pall over Bahrain Grand Prix

By Alan Baldwin, Reuters

Sat Apr 21, 2012 1:49pm EDT

A funeral march for Habib will probably take place on Sunday, once his body has been released to his family, setting the stage for riots during the big race itself.

Activists say his death takes the total dead since the uprising began on Feb. 14, 2011 to 81, including police killed last year, a figure the government disputes.

F1 teams to race while rage boils on Bahrain streets

By Alan Baldwin, Reuters

Sun Apr 22, 2012 2:10am EDT

Black smoke from burning tyres wafted over Budaiya on Sunday morning, before the final race. Budaiya, outside the capital of Manama, was the scene of mass protests on Friday.

The death of 36-year-old protester Salah Abbas Habib – found sprawled on a rooftop on Saturday after overnight clashes – provides more fuel for outrage among a Shi’ite Muslim majority that complains of being marginalized by ruling Sunnis.

(N)ightly TV images of streets ablaze with clouds of smoke and teargas are an embarrassment for Formula One and the global brands that lavish it with sponsorship. Thomson Reuters, parent company of Reuters, is a sponsor of the Williams Formula One team.

Jean Todt, president of Formula One’s governing body, the International Automobile Federation, broke a media silence on Saturday to say he was sorry “about what has been reported”.

“I am not sure that all that has been reported corresponds to the reality of what is happening in this country,” he added.

Bahrain Grand Prix to go ahead despite protester’s death

Paul Weaver and Peter Beaumont, The Guardian

With dozens of armoured personnel carriers guarding the main route to the circuit, the decision by F1 and the Sunni minority royal family to push ahead with the event – partly to help convince the world of Bahrain’s return to normality – appeared to be degenerating into a human rights and PR catastrophe.

Despite claims by F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone and regime officials that the race was safe and the threat of violence “hyped”, the buildup to the contest has been marked by increasingly large anti-government demonstrations that have been put down with teargas, birdshot and stun grenades.

Wefaq official Sayed Hadi al-Mousawi said it was not clear what caused Habib’s death. “We haven’t got the body because the official investigators have surrounded the area, but we understand he was beaten severely. His colleagues with him last night were beaten with batons and the butts of rifles used to shoot teargas and birdshot.” Bahrain’s interior ministry described Habib as having suffered “a wound to his left side”.

The decision to go ahead with the race was defended by Jean Todt, president of the FIA, the sport’s governing body, who echoed Ecclestone’s comments late last week criticising the reporting of the situation in Bahrain. “I came here after the Indian Grand Prix to assess the situation and to understand better the situation. I had discussions with the British ambassador, the French ambassador, the Italian ambassador, the German ambassador – and the authorities,” he said. “Everybody was very comfortable with the situation and about the implementation of new solutions for the country.”

Bahrain Race Is Not First Controversy for Formula One

By JOHN F. BURNS, The New York Times

April 21, 2012, 8:16 pm

Formula One, in the guise of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the sport’s governing body, made its own on-the-spot assessment in Bahrain during the winter, led by Jean Todt, a Frenchman who is the organization’s president and former head of the Ferrari grand prix team during Schumacher’s glory years. Satisfied with what it found, the organization ruled in favor of resuming the race. In the background, strong pressure in favor of racing came from Bernie Ecclestone, the Englishman who is Formula One’s ringmaster, and the man who negotiated a $40-million fee from the Bahrain government.

The teams and drivers, discreetly, were much less keen, with some of the sport’s marquee names acknowledging the human rights arguments, but agreeing, in the end, to follow the lead of Mr. Todt and Mr. Ecclestone. In this, financial considerations played their part. The larger racing teams like Ferrari operate with budgets that can exceed $300 million a year. While few drivers can match the $50 million to $100 million a year that Schumacher is said to have made in his heyday, contracts that pay $15-million and more are the standard at the front end of the starting grid. A racing driver’s career can be short – tragically short, if they are unlucky – and there are few cases, if any, of a driver defying his team and refusing to race for reasons of conscience.

The move was of a piece with a broader pattern shaped by Mr. Ecclestone, the sport’s principal entrepreneur, who has moved progressively over the past decade to move races to countries like China, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi with little or no motor racing history, and scant support for Formula One that manifests itself in anemic crowds. To make way for these fixtures, Formula One has abandoned the races in some countries – notably, France – where the sport has a long history but less willingness on the part of their motorsport bodies and track owners to raise the fees that governments in the new venues are prepared to pay for the veneer of respectability that comes with staging a grand prix that will be watched by perhaps 100 million television viewers.

Perhaps, in the end, grand prix racing’s image problem – and the reason it has seemed to many so out-of-touch in its decision to race in Bahrain – is that it is, by its nature, an elite sport, and carefully nurtured to remain so. In an earlier age, many of the drivers were aristocrats – Siamese princes, German barons, Belgian counts, American department store heirs, English aristocrats – who raced with ascots and bow ties, and who disported themselves with the devil-may-care attitudes of a privileged class. These were men who drove cars up the staircases of luxury hotels, quaffed magnum bottles of champagne, smoked the best Cuban cigars, and cast each other off hotel balconies into swimming pools – until, inevitably, many of them died on the track.

Today’s drivers are of a different class, many of them like Schumacher and the current world champion, the German Sebastian Vettel, the sons of modestly placed fathers who got them early into go-kart racing, and guided them as they rose the ladder to Formula One. But they, too, are cocooned by privilege, above all by the kind of wealth that runs to private jets and yachts, and by the care that the race officials, including the F.I.A., take to ensure that the media coverage is concentrated among people who do it full-time, who themselves become part of the closed Formula One circus – eager to discourse on the merits of this aerodynamic innovation or that computerized engine management system, but disinclined, in most cases, to look beyond the confines of the tracks where they spend their working lives and take the measure of the societies beyond.

Formula One lives in a Bahrain bubble

By Alan Baldwin, Reuters

Sat Apr 21, 2012 3:55pm EDT

On Saturday, the body of a demonstrator was discovered on a rooftop after a battle at which witnesses said police fired birdshot at crowds. His funeral could be held on Sunday, setting the stage for riots on the day of the race itself.

(F)or those within the sport’s entourage who have not ventured out to see a different reality, talk of petrol bombs, death and torture might as well be from another planet.

Red Bull’s world champion Sebastian Vettel said shortly after arrival on Thursday that he thought much of what was being reported was hype.

He looked forward to getting in the car and dealing with the “stuff that really matters – tyre temperatures, cars.”

Bahrain Grand Prix: Defiant Force India feel wrath of Formula One

Paul Weaver, The Observer

Saturday 21 April 2012

Force India have been punished by Formula One by being blanked from the television screens after missing a practice session because of concerns over their safety. BBC and Sky viewers bombarded the channels with calls, emails and tweets after Saturday’s’s qualifying session for the Bahrain Grand Prix, asking why the cameras did not feature the Force India cars of Paul Di Resta and Nico Hülkenberg, even though Di Resta was a top-10 finisher.

Both TV channels have their own teams at races, but their pictures come from the feed controlled by Formula One Management. Bernie Ecclestone, the sport’s commercial rights holder, denied the charge on Saturday when he said: “I was busy and didn’t notice Force India were not on. I will look into it. It could be technical, but I suspect it was more to do with the Bahrain laws on no alcohol advertising. They have a whisky company prominently on the car. They should have taken it off. TV could not show that.”

However, Force India, who number Whyte & Mackay among their sponsors, appear to have been singled out for punishment because all teams submit their livery for approval when they race in countries with restrictions, such as Bahrain. Pictures were broadcast of the team in practise without sanction. Force India refused to comment last night, but a team insider who declined to be named said: “Everyone knows what happened. Bernie is giving Force India a slap on the wrist for missing Friday’s second practice session.”

Meanwhile, the FIA president, Jean Todt, said his conscience was clear despite a disastrous week for Formula One. “I am sorry about what has been reported,” he said “I am not sure all that has been reported corresponds to the reality of what is happening in this country. But I feel F1 is very strong. It is a very strong brand, and all the people among the teams to whom I have been speaking are very happy.”

Bernie Ecclestone has followed the money and turned Formula One into a pariah sport

Richard Williams, The Guardian

Saturday 21 April 2012 12.01 EDT

News of the death of a protester in Bahrain, reported just before 24 Formula One cars set off for their qualifying session for grand prix, drowned the noise of engines everywhere except inside the paddock at the Sakhir circuit, where the drivers and engineers maintained their concentration on settling the order of the starting grid. In the view of Sebastian Vettel, the reigning world champion, they were getting back to what really mattered. Much of the outside world, however, had long since lost interest in listening to commentators discussing tyre temperatures and drag-reduction.

What has happened on the oil-rich island in the Persian Gulf is a direct result of the way Ecclestone has run the sport since taking control 30 years ago. His willingness to tear up its traditional roots and follow the money into new territories opened the way for an eventual collision between a spectacle whose audience is still largely European and countries with non-democratic systems of government. Bahrain is the wrong time and the wrong place in which to maintain the pretence that sport is sport and politics is politics, and that the two have no interdependence. The country’s royal family destroyed that fiction when they had posters put up around their Sakhir circuit featuring the slogan “UniF1ed – One Nation in Celebration”, an explicit use of Formula One to bolster their claim to have taken steps to improve conditions for their people since the first demonstrations in March 2011, part of the “Arab spring”, caused the cancellation of last year’s grand prix.

Amnesty International’s most recent report on the situation in Bahrain calmly but remorselessly dismantled those claims. Most of the action taken by the rulers, it suggested, has been in the area of public relations. Little of any substantive nature has been done to address the discontent felt by the Shia majority at the discrimination exercised by the Sunni royal family and their governing elite. Official investigations have gone slowly, and no senior figure has been charged with liability for the violence – including allegations of torture – meted out to some of last year’s protesters and to medical personnel who went to their aid.

But protesters, Ecclestone told me last year, tend to be “people who’ve got nothing to do on a Sunday”. They are certainly not, by and large, people likely to contribute to his enrichment, who are the only type of people in whom he is really interested.

The Bahrain affair also exposes the conflicts of interest that flow through Formula One. The crown prince of Bahrain sanctioned the building of the Sakhir circuit and the payment of the annual $40m to Ecclestone; both are members of the FIA’s powerful World Motor Sports Council. The investment arm of Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, Mumtalakat Holdings, owns 40% of the McLaren team, which is perhaps one reason why Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have been economical with their opinions this weekend. The crown prince also shares the ownership of a team in the GP2 championship, F1’s supporting attraction, with the son of Jean Todt, the president of the FIA, who was in a position to order the cancellation of this weekend’s race but declined to do so.

Ecclestone’s habit of taking the money and asking no questions ensured that one day he would place the Formula One teams and their personnel in the position they now find themselves: nervous of their personal safety and uncertain how to respond to the question of whether they should be there at all. Thanks to him, a sport whose conscience was once troubled only by its environmental impact now looks like a pariah.

You may well ask if I am re-evaluating my support for McLaren after learning that Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund is a 40% owner.

The answer is yes.

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  1. ek hornbeck

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