I said on Twitter on Tuesday that if the Bahrain Government was going to fire on its own people, then the Formula One season opener due to take place on 13th March, as well as the testing the previous weekend, should be cancelled immediately.
I am horrified to see that Bernie Ecclestone, someone you may remember who gave a million quid to the Labour Party when they still had ethics, so you'd think he'd have a passing interest in human rights, has now left it to the Crown Prince of Bahrain to decide whether the race goes ahead.
Until now, the Crown Prince as portrayed to us has been that friendly, benign figure Martin Brundle talks to on the grid. I remember a couple of years ago that started with Brundle being uncharacteristically obsequious and ending with him patting HRH on the shoulder and taking his leave with a "take care". Last year Eddie Jordan interviewed this man and did all but prostrate himself before him.
We've seen another side to Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamad Isa Al Khalifa, though, these past few days. He was in charge of the Army when they fired on their own people in Pearl Square Manama in a series of protests that has left 6 people dead and hundreds injured. His subsequent withdrawal of the Army and willingness to talk is, quite simply, too little, too late.
I'm assuming the reason Bernie wants the Bahrainis to make the decision is motivated by money and contractual issues. If FOM makes the decision to pull out, are they open to claims for costs incurred by the teams? However, if it's the Bahrain Government advising it isn't safe, would that minimise any liability?
The Telegraph reports that the teams are reluctant to go, but want the decision to be made for them, again, presumably, because they are worried about Bernie suing the backsides off them if they pull out unilaterally. Each of the dozen teams will have at least 30-40 people with them, from mechanics to catering staff to IT people. They will be concerned for their safety. The Bahrain Government might well say they can guarantee the safety at the Sakhir circuit itself, but it won't be a good look if people have to walk past tanks to get in, and you have to think about the safety of the teams as they make their way to and from the circuit. The F1 circus is actually scheduled to hit town at the beginning of March when the final test takes place, so they could potentially be there for almost a fortnight. I suspect that test will be moved to Jerez or Barcelona so that teams won't actually arrive in Bahrain until Tuesday 8th or Wednesday 9th March. That's still 6 days when the volatile situation could erupt.
Just say they do go ahead and things kick off during the race weekend. Would the Crown Prince order the Army to fire on the people? What level of brutality would be used to keep them off the streets? Surely Ecclestone can see that a massacre would not be a good thing for F1 to be associated with - especially when it could be avoided.
We have this crazy situation where the Foreign Office website advises against all but essential travel to Bahrain, yet Ecclestone leaves it up to someone with a vested interest to make the call, the same person who has already shown that he considers it acceptable to fire live ammunition on peaceful protesters whose demands were modest, to say the least. Is it not time to find some moral fibre and realise that F1's presence in Bahrain at this time is not going to help?
I've never been a huge fan of the move to hold races in places like Bahrain and China where there is no concern for human rights. Amnesty's report on Bahrain wasn't that great before all this started with reports of torture that made me wince. Imagine being locked up just for criticising the Government or the Royal Family? It's something that we in this country can't really comprehend. The situation has clearly deteriorated since then. For the safety of everyone, from the people of Bahrain to F1 and media personnel, that race should be cancelled immediately. To do otherwise would be to condone a repressive regime's attempts to cling on to power without legitimacy.