BBC Interviews Bernie Ecclestone & Bahrain Crown Prince

BBC sports correspondent Dan Roan has interviewed F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, as well as the Bahrain Crown Prince.

Ecclestone was asked if there were certain places he wouldn’t consider holding a race, such as Syria. He responded by saying, “They probably don’t have a circuit.” Asked, “If they did though?” Ecclestone replied: “We’d have to have a look and see.”

Ecclestone went on to say:

I keep asking people what human rights are … but I don’t know what they are. The rights are the people that live in a country and abide by the laws in that country whatever they are.

He added:

The government here were really, in a lot of ways, stupid to put this race on, because it’s a platform for people to use for protesting.

Asked if he’d heard about the crackdown reported by Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and other NGOs, Ecclestone implied that they were baseless claims:

I think you’ve got the right word there – you “hear”. Which is exactly what happens. You “hear”.

Watch the full interview here.

The BBC also spoke with former F1 champion Sir Jackie Stewart, who echoed FIA President Jean Todt’s comments that “sport unifies people”, saying that those who are objecting to the race are “out of order” and “doing nobody any good at all”. Jackie Stewart’s son Mark runs a production company which has previously received contracts from the Bahrain government to do promotional work for the Bahrain International Circuit and the Bahrain International Air Show.

In another interview, the Bahrain Crown Prince said of MPs, human rights groups, and others who have criticised the race going ahead:

Well I wish they were here so they could see the reality on the ground. I think it’s easy to commentate from 3000 miles away. But unless you’re really familiar with the situation, it behooves one to come to the country first.

Watch the full interview here. Dan Roan also filed this report yesterday.

Could Bahrain launch the 2014 Formula One season?

Amidst the increasing controversy the event is bringing, Paul Weaver reports for The Guardian on the possibility that Bahrain may launch the 2014 Formula One season:

Bernie Ecclestone is considering launching next year’s Formula Oneseason in Bahrain. As tension built here on Friday, with an estimated 10,000 pro-democracy demonstrators gathering at Budaiya Highway in the afternoon and more serious trouble expected overnight, Ecclestone’s stance could be seen as provocative.

Hosting nations pay a special premium for the extra status of holding the opening race and if the move does go ahead teams are likely to spend a further week testing in the Gulf state.

The Bahrain International Circuit’s chairman, Zayed R Alzayani, revealed on Friday that he wanted his track to start the 2014 schedule when he said: “It gives us the chance to have the teams here longer, there is more anticipation and more unknowns.”

When F1’s chief executive and commercial rights holder Ecclestone was asked about it he said: “I hear they [Bahrain] are quite keen. We need to have a good look at it. We could do, I suppose.”

The opening race was held here in 2006 because Melbourne did not want the event to clash with their hosting of the Commonwealth Games. It also staged the first race in 2010, when they paid $40m (£26m) for the honour, a big increase from their previous fee of $25m. The following year’s race was postponed following the deaths of a number of anti-government demonstrators.

If the change is made there are likely to be misgivings in the paddock. F1 personnel were distinctly nervous here last year and although they were more relaxed when they arrived at the track on Wednesday there was a subdued mood in the garages on Friday as the awareness grew that more trouble was on the way. There were burning tyres – and they weren’t the highly degradable Pirellis on the Formula One cars.

Read full article

Jenson Button: “I am sure what we see and what Bahrainis see is two very different things”

Last week, a group of NGOs, led by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), launched a campaign to highlight human rights abuses ahead of the race.

The NGOs wrote to all the Formula One drivers asking them to “pledge their support for a free and just Bahrain by publicly condemning the ongoing human rights abuses”. Throughout the week, activists have been encouraged to contact the drivers on Twitter, using the hashtag #ReformsF1rst.

Speaking to The Guardian yesterday, Jenson Button, who races for McLaren, revealed that he had been following Twitter. He said:

I hear different things on Twitter and you cannot get away from it, but for us as a team and me as an individual, I have to believe the FIA are making the right call. We have 19 races around the world and I trust their decision not to put us in danger and it is the right thing to do.

I did not see anything last year. It is no different from 2004 in terms of what we see when we are here.

But I am sure that what we see and what the Bahrainis see is two very different things. We see the hotel, we drive to the circuit and we see the circuit. That’s it.

 

Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt respond to letter from NGOs

Earlier this week, four NGOs wrote to FIA President Jean Todt and F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, as well as all the teams, sponsors and broadcasters. The letter began:

We write in opposition to Formula One’s plans to hold a Grand Prix in Bahrain this year. If the race goes ahead,it will be taking place in a country whose government continues to commit gross human rights violations, from arbitrary arrests to torture. Bahrain’s jails contain hundreds of political prisoners, police use excessive force with impunity, and opposition members have been stripped of their citizenship. Formula One should rethink its decision to support these practices by choosing to hold their race in Bahrain.

As just reported by the Daily Mail, Guardian and MSN Sport, responses have been received from both Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone. The responses are copied in full below.

From FIA President Jean Todt:

Thank you for your recent email regarding the staging of the FIA Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain.I take note of your concerns, and those expressed by the organizations you are linked to.

The FIA is a sporting and mobility federation, in charge of regulating motor sport worldwide as well as representing more than 80 million motorists in matters of road safety, sustainability and integrated transport systems. It is our firm belief that sport, and the F1 Grand Prix, can have a positive and healing effect in situations where conflict, social unrest and tensions are causing distress.

We thank you once more for your note.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely,
Jean Todt

From Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone:

It is a great shame that this was not brought to me before September 2012 when the FIA Formula One World Championship calendar was formed and it is now too late to make any changes to the calendar.

I have not received any complaints from any journalists concerning their accreditation to this year’s event.

Best wishes,

Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone’s line about journalists accreditation refers to a section of the letter where it was noted that last year, the Bahrain government “[denied] entry for journalists who wanted to see the reality on the ground,” and that “Foreign journalists were attacked, arrested, and even deported“. The responses avoided the substance of the letter almost entirely, such as the section relating the sacked and abused Bahraini Formula One workers:

The race is scheduled to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) on 21 April 2013. In 2011, at the height of the government crackdown, many permanent members of BIC staff were dismissed from their jobs, arrested and tortured. To date, there has been no justice for these Formula One workers. By continuing to race on this track, Formula One is facilitating the culture of impunity through which the authorities have operated.

Media roundup – F1 criticised, police attack school, protests

With the race just days away, international media is now turning the spotlight on Bahrain. Many journalists have arrived in the country and – to date – there have been no reports of people being denied access to Bahrain unlike last year. Below is a roundup of the various stories from the past 24 hours:

Independent_TheWorld_17-4-2013The front page of British paper The Independent‘s World section led with Bahrain and the attack on Jabreya boys high school by police yesterday. The wide ranging article by Loveday Morris also included a comment by Bahraini activist Sayed Ahmed, currently in exile in the UK having been arrested, jailed and tortured in 2011:

The street are clear, they don’t want a race on their blood. The security being used is enormous – it’s simply martial law which has not been announced.

The BBC also ran an article leading on the school attack, along with an analysis by correspondent Bill Law on the “background to the protests”. The Metro ran a similar guide on “Why the controversy?”

Many media organisations, including The Independent, covered yesterday’s press conference at the House of Lords, where the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Bahrain announced that they had written to F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone asking him to cancel the race:

BBC SportBahrain Grand Prix: MPs want race cancelled because of unrest

Daily Mail – Ecclestone under pressure from MPs to cancel Bahrain race after letter condemning ‘atrocious human rights violations’

Evening StandardMPs insist Bernie Ecclestone axes Bahrain race

Others organisations led on the recent comments by Bernie Ecclestone:

ReutersEcclestone willing to meet Bahrain opposition

BBC SportBahrain Grand Prix: Bernie Ecclestone backs race to go ahead

Daily TelegraphBahrain protesters are just like those ‘complaining about Mrs Thatcher’, says F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone

The Guardian had an article on FIA President Jean Todt’s decision not to attend the Bahrain Grand Prix as he “will be busy electioneering because his four-year stint in office comes to an end this autumn”. The article adds that “he is expected to be re-elected unopposed.”

Other articles led on the growing protests and tensions:

Voice of AmericaBahrain Protests Heat Up Ahead of F1 Race

ReutersBahrain opposition calls for stepped up protests ahead of F1

Daily TelegraphBahrain on edge ahead of Formula One race

The Daily Telegraph’s Chief Foreign Correspondent David Blair also ran a piece in the wake of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishing its annual human rights report. He writes:

The Foreign Office launched its annual human rights report today, singling out 27 “countries of concern”. But how are these offenders chosen? William Hague was at pains to say that the criteria have been reviewed since last year, although the only change is that Chad has dropped off the list. Meanwhile, various oddities remain.

(…)

Another curiosity is Bahrain. Once again, a case study on page 48 is deeply critical, quoting how a commission “observed that the use of torture by the security forces was a deep-rooted problem and that there was a lack of accountability for such acts”. The government of Bahrain responded by setting up a “Special Investigations Unit”, but the “number of officials being investigated is low, and actual convictions even lower”.

You would think those would be grounds for concern. So does Bahrain make the list? No it doesn’t.

See also the Media Roundup compiled by the Bahrain Justice and Development Movement for April 16th

Bernie Ecclestone says he’s “happy to talk to anybody”

In a select briefing to media, F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone offered a contrast to his recent comments on the Bahrain Grand Prix. Responding to a question about the protesters opposing the F1 and calling for democracy and respect for human rights, Ecclestone said: “We are extremely sympathetic to them,” adding that he could see both sides of the debate. He continued:

All I can say is the truth. If we hear about anything that goes on and it’s bad, for sure we don’t want to be in that country. Don’t forget when we had apartheid in South Africa, I was the one who pulled the race, so I’m the last guy to help out with this.

Last year I spoke to the people representing the protesters, and I spoke to the people we deal with. It was really difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong. And I’m happy to talk to anybody about this again, as I did before. I wish they could sort things out. If there are any problems, which there obviously are – people are not making trouble if there are no problems – then they could get it sorted.

You are always going to get people who are going to try and take advantage of any situation. And if you are going to do something you might as well do it when there is a lot of worldwide TV there. But I don’t think the people who are arguing about their position are bad people, and I don’t think they’re trying to hurt people to make their point. Just think we have all sorts of protesters. Look at the people complaining about Mrs Thatcher. It happens all the time. People use these things when there is an opportunity.

It should be positive. I said to the protesters if you are going to achieve what you are trying to achieve, which is having control of the country, you are better off having control when the country is strong and respected worldwide, than capture something nobody wants. Who wants to capture Syria at the moment? It’s a liability, not an asset, and it’s the same with Bahrain.

If they could get to grips with it, they would get more control of a country that is strong, not a country that’s weak. We are terribly selfish because we want to go there, have good racing and leave. We don’t want to see trouble, we don’t want to see people arguing and fighting about things we don’t understand, because we really don’t understand.

Bernie Ecclestone claims “there’s nobody demonstrating”

On Friday and Saturday, thousands of Bahrainis were on the streets protesting. Speaking to journalists on Sunday at the Chinese Grand Prix, Formula One’s Bernie Ecclestone said:

What’s happened? They’re demonstrating now? I didn’t know that.

There’s nobody demonstrating.