The 2011 Grand Prix, due to be held on 13 March, was cancelled on 21 February because of the 2011 Bahraini protests. The race was canceled for 2011 after drivers including Damon Hill and Mark Webber protested. World champion racer Damon Hill called on Formula One not to reschedule saying that holding the race in the “blood-soaked” kingdom would be on a par with sporting tours that chose to play in Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.
In Bahrain, people have been protesting against the 2012 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. Bahraini protests were initially aimed at achieving greater political freedom and equality for the majority Shia population. Bahrain’s Shia majority has often complained of receiving poor treatment in employment, housing, and infrastructure, while Sunnis have preferential status. Bahraini youths described their plans as an appeal for Bahrainis to take to the streets on Monday 14 February in a peaceful and orderly manner in order to rewrite the constitution and to establish a body with a full popular mandate to investigate and hold to account economic, political and social violations, including stolen public wealth, political naturalisation, arrests, torture and other oppressive security measures, and institutional and economic corruption. However, following a deadly night raid on 17 February 2011 against protesters at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, protesters started calling for an end to the monarchy of King Hamad. Since then, Bahrain has been bitterly divided. A year on, protests still occur daily in Shi’ite areas, often ending in violence.
A month later after the cancellation of the 2011 Grand Prix, the Bahrain International Circuit fired twenty-nine employees who were suspected of sympathizing and supporting the protesters. Some employees said they were beaten and tortured by Bahraini police. 1600 government workers were also dismissed without any reasons. Bahraini police have been firing tear gas to the demonstrators and arresting them. According to statistics from Wikipedia, 64% of detainees or 1866 individuals have reported being tortured and at least 5 individuals have died as a result. As of 24 March 2012, the uprising resulted in about 86 deaths. The number of injuries is estimated to be 2908 on March 2011. The government is responsible to at least 34 deaths due to excessive use of tear gas.
Activists have intensified their campaign to push Formula One to cancel the Bahrain round of the world championship, slated for 20-22 April 2012 at the Sakhir, south-west of Manama. “We object to holding a sports race that belittles the sacrifices of our children and ignores our suffering and wounds. Do not tarnish the reputation of the respected auto sport with the blood of Bahrain victims.” On Twitter, a whole campaign has been launched against the return of the Grand Prix to Bahrain. “Stop, my blood is flowing” and “Race over blood,” were two slogans posted by activists on Twitter, where hash-tags like “BloodyF1” and “NoF1” generate scores of tweets.
Bahrain International Circuit chairman, Zayed R Alzayani, believes the return of Formula One to Bahrain will bring new hope and improvements to the region. Despite that, he said: “Whatever story we have tried to put out has always been overshadowed by conflict or political issues in the country, with people getting arrested, killed or injured, or whatever. But the worst is behind us now. There’s a genuine move towards progress, getting the country back on track. Everybody has suffered in Bahrain – the citizens, the businesses, and it’s time we find some hope, build on it and move back to where we were.”
After a visit to Bahrain in December, former Formula One driver and soon-to-be Sky Sports commentator Damon Hill is urging the return of Bahrain’s F1 race and acknowledging positive changes in the country’s government. “I listened to a lot of people there, including eye-witnesses and I believe they are making changes to become better. I understand the substantial economic significance of the GP for Bahrain and one could imagine the GP being a great fillip for Bahrain on the road to recovery.” However, with under 2 weeks to go, conditions do not seem to have improved, from the reports in newspapers, social media and on Al Jazeera TV. Hill emphasised he was not calling for the race to be cancelled – just for the F1 authorities to think about whether holding it was the right thing to do. “You don’t get 100,000 people risking their lives in protest for nothing.” Defending champion Sebastian Vettel and seven-time winner Michael Schumacher lately supported the return of F1 to Bahrain.
Bernie Ecclestone, the chairman of Formula One, says this year’s event, scheduled for April 22nd, will go ahead as planned although there will be no increase in security during the week of the event.
***UPDATE*** UK Labour MP Richard Burden is the latest public official to call for the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix not to go ahead, believing the country isn’t yet ready for the sports return.
***UPDATE*** Bernie Ecclestone insists that the race will go on unless being cancelled by the national sporting authority in the country. Teams are counting on FIA to do the right decision.
***UPDATE*** FIA has confirmed Bahrain GP will go ahead.
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