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.

Damon Hill and Richard Burden MP raise concerns

Speaking to journalists, Damon Hill, former world champion, called on the FIA President Jean Todt to have a clear stance regarding the race:

Jean Todt’s approach has been to say nothing, because otherwise you’re being critical, and I think that is a mistake. Because he’s being used, or the sport is being perceived as being used, by its engagement in the economy and the reputation of the country.

He’s not said anything that has distanced the sport from things that it would find distasteful and upsetting, which I believe everyone in the sport would like to do.

The vast majority of people in the sport would like to say we don’t want to come here to make life worse for people. We would like you to enjoy Formula One. It has lots of positive things to offer. But please don’t, on our behalf, round people up and brutalise them. I don’t see that being political. It’s more ethical than political.

I would not want to go to Bahrain if people are going to be treated extra bad just so a race can go ahead. What we don’t want to have is F1 being responsible for making life worse for people. The question is whether F1, by going to Bahrain, is actually going to enable or further brutal repression.

It’s none of my business what goes on in Bahrain, in many ways. But it is if I’m involved in the sport and that’s my life, and the sport is going to Bahrain.

My view is the sport, and the governing body of the sport, should ensure they’re not being hijacked for the wrong reasons. And I’m not entirely sure they’ve cleared up that point, I have to say

At the same press briefing, motorsport fan and politician Richard Burden MP, who was outspoken about last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, said:

The messages I’m getting from various people in the opposition – and there have been pretty regular street protest over the past three weeks – is that the F1 race will be more of a focus than it was last year. That’s what they anticipate happening.

The quotes [Ecclestone] came out with is that everything will be fine. I just do not buy that. It is not the same evidence that I am hearing. Opinion is not difficult to come by in Bahrain saying either that the race should not go ahead and, if it does, there will be trouble.

If anything happens it will be a tragedy for all concerned. I hope in the next few days that people will understand that words do have an impact.

Bahrain government’s official spokesperson and Information Minister Sameera Rajab criticised Hill, telling the Gulf Daily News:

He (Hill) should see what’s going on in Bahrain for himself, rather than go with what those who have an agenda against Bahrain say.

Coming to Bahrain and seeing what’s going on is better than making statements sitting thousands of miles away.