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Dark implications over the Grand Prix

Is Formula 1 encouraging a brutal crackdown in Bahrain?

Formula 1, the high profile and high speed racing championship, is held throughout the world, bringing attention and an influx of money into the locations it takes place at. On April 6th, 2014, Bahrain held a Grand Prix on the Bahrain International Circuit. On the surface, the race was a fast paced global spectacle. However, behind the scenes, there lies something deeply disconcerting about Formula 1's effect on Bahrain that is forcing many to question the ties between sports and politics.

Maryam al-Khawaja, Bahraini human rights defender and daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, another prominent human rights defender, has spoken out and demanded the removal of Bahrain from the Formula 1 lineup, as it encourages Bahrain's harsh Khalifa regime, which ,while officially known as a constitutional monarchy, demonstrates the oppressive behavior of an absolute monarchy. Al-Khawaja repeatedly called upon Formula 1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone to cancel the race, but to no avail.

Al-Khawaja's stance is that the prospect of Formula 1 in Bahrain worsens oppression and encourages a crackdown on dissent in order to appear prepared and welcome the event. This attempt to stifle dissent is compounded by the fact that the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled due to political unrest, giving the regime even more cause to utilize harsh methods to maintain power, including torture and imprisonment. Human rights activists in Bahrain are already heavily oppressed by Bahrain's security forces and Formula 1 only exacerbates the problem.

However, the president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), Jean Todt, has rejected al-Khawaja's appeals as he claims that a country's internal politics are irrelevant to the governing body of the race. Formula 1's dismissal of Bahrain's internal discord, coupled with the country's heavy press censorship has left al-Khawaja unheard. 

Other opposition groups have attempted to use the Formula 1 conflict to shed light on Bahrain's human rights and political problems, but the race still went on unhindered. The question remains, what will it take for western interests such as Formula 1 to recognize that business as usual could represent grave harm to local people?

Lucas Padovani.

8 April 2014

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