Formula 1’s return to Bahrain “will eventually cost Formula 1 dear,” Max Mosley says in an opinion piece in the Telegraph.
The former president of the FIA makes it very clear in a reasoned piece that admits sports sometimes must be in questionable areas, but that a sport’s presence can have positive effects.
Bahrain is different, Mosley argues:
If sport has a political function, it is in drawing together groups and factions, even countries, which are otherwise at loggerheads.
Motor sport has many examples of this: a World Championship rally criss-crossing the border in Ireland with the support of both communities; rallies in the Lebanon producing a temporary truce during the civil war; a similar story a few years ago in the Balkans; there is even an Israeli presence in the Middle-East Rally Championship although, for understandable reasons, it is not obvious.
With this background, it will be claimed that reinstating the Formula One race in Bahrain is beneficial. It will bring the Shia and Sunni communities together, uniting the warring factions as part of a process of reconciliation.
Surely the line has to be drawn when a sporting event is not mere entertainment in a less-than-perfect country, but is being used by an oppressive regime to camouflage its actions.
If a sport accepts this role, it becomes a tool of government. If Formula One allows itself to be used in this way in Bahrain, it will share the regime’s guilt as surely as if it went out and helped brutalise unarmed protesters.
It is worth remembering that the trouble in Bahrain began with peaceful protest. The crowds were not seeking the removal of the ruling family, merely a move towards democracy and rights for the Shia majority comparable to those enjoyed by the Sunni elite.
These modest demands were soon met with brutal repression. Demonstrators were shot dead. Protesters were imprisoned and, according to credible reports, hideously mistreated, even tortured and killed.
Having carried out these horrific acts, the Bahrain government wants to clean up its image. That’s where the Grand Prix comes in. By running the race they hope to show the world the troubles were just a small, temporary difficulty and everything is now back to normal.
By agreeing to race there, Formula One becomes complicit in what has happened. It becomes one of the Bahrain government’s instruments of repression. The decision to hold the race is a mistake which will not be forgotten and, if not reversed, will eventually cost Formula One dear.
I don’t know that I have much to add. I agree, and we all know we should panic when we find ourselves agreeing with Max. Is he wrong, though?