The controversial decision to reinstate the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix taken by the sport’s governing body FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) was taken after receiving a report saying that the political unrest in the country had stabilised, FIA president Jean Todt told the BBC on Monday.
Todt, the former mastermind behind Ferrari’s success, said that FIA vice-president Carlos Gracia had been to Bahrain and decided after apparently in-depth talks that everything was fine to return there on October 30.
Todt’s remarks came on the same day as a total of 24 doctors and 23 nurses went on trial in Bahrain for their apparent roles in the unrest in January and February which left 24 people dead according to the authorities — some of the medics claimed that they had been tortured into confessing.
Todt was adamant that FIA felt it was safe to return there, after originally calling off the March 13 race, though he did admit they would be constantly assessing the situation.
“Our special envoy had many meetings in Bahrain, even with the human rights people responsible,” said Todt.
“He found a stable situation, a quiet one, and we unanimously agreed.
“Carlos’s report was discussed by the World Council and the decision was taken to accept to re-programme the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2011.
“We got a request from the opposition to the government to run the event and Carlos met with many people, including those working on the circuit, those in all the suburbs of the capital, and the report came back after that.
“The messages coming out are about peace, about restoring a good situation in this part of the world. Lots of other authorities have been encouraging [things] to go back to normal. My thinking is that, as a sporting body, we must support that.”
However Avaaz, an international campaigning organisation, issued a statement in which they contradicted the FIA’s findings.
“Claims that calm has been restored and life is back to normal in Bahrain are completely untrue,” said campaign director Alex Wilks.
“In the last week the police have continued to use tear gas, rubber bullets and sound grenades to break up peaceful marches, killing and injuring dozens of people.
“On Monday, 47 Bahraini doctors and nurses who simply provided treatment to injured protesters have been charged by a military court with attempting to topple the kingdom’s monarchy.
“Whitewashing these abuses is an insult to the hundreds of protesters jailed and dozens killed in their struggle for change. The FIA’s decision to go ahead with the race based on one blinkered account of the situation shows how money has prevailed over morals.
“The main organisation that has provided this information, the Bahrain-based National Institute of Human Rights, is closely associated with the Bahraini Government and it appears the FIA investigator failed to contact any of the other key human rights organisations on the ground.
“Now it is up to the teams to stand up for what is right and boycott the race.”
‘Now isn’t the right time’
Not all the major parties or personalities involved in the sport have voiced their support for the decision to go ahead with the race with several of the teams thought to be opposed.
Australian star Mark Webber has been one of the few to publicly express his disagreement with the decision.
“My opinion is unchanged since I was first asked about this in late February. Even though a decision has been made, I’ll be highly surprised if the Bahrain Grand Prix goes ahead this year,” Webber said on his website on Saturday.
“In my personal opinion, the sport should have taken a much firmer stance earlier this year rather than constantly delaying its decision in hope of being able to re-schedule it in 2011.
“It would have sent a very clear message about F1’s position on something as fundamental as human rights and how it deals with moral issues.
“It’s obvious that the parties involved have struggled to reach a decision but sadly I feel that they still haven’t made the right one.
“Like it or not, F1 and sport in general isn’t above having a social responsibility and conscience. I hope F1 is able to return to Bahrain eventually but now isn’t the right time.” — AFP