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.
Brian Dooley, from Human Rights First, writes for The Atlantic:
The promoters of Bahrain’s Grand Prix urge you to “Imagine your moment.” It’s a great slogan. It’s supposed to reflect “the excitement from all Formula 1 fans… as well as all the memorable moments people create during the enjoyable time they have at the race.”
The Bahrain Grand Prix will occur later this month despite the controversy of holding the race amid a fierce government crackdown on political dissent and increasingly violent protests. The 2011 race was cancelled due to the country’s turmoil, but last year’s Grand Prix went on anyway.
Bahrain’s rulers are invested financially and psychologically in the F1. It brings international prestige to the tiny kingdom, where the ruling family keeps tight control of power and the king’s uncle has been the unelected prime minister for over 40 years. The Bahraini Mumtalakat Holding Company, which boasts several members of the ruling family on its board of directors, co-owns McLaren, one of the leading F1 teams.
Now it seems that fresh human rights violations are being committed in anticipation of the race, presumably to dissuade protests. One woman told me masked men had seized one of her family members in a dawn raid a few days ago without an arrest warrant. “We live so close to the track we can hear the cars racing. Masked men came and took him and we’ve heard nothing since about his whereabouts or what the charge is. He was taken because of this F1.”
Read full article
Reuters reports on the “limited appetite” of F1 sponsors ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix:
Thomson Reuters, a partner of the Williams Formula One team, said it would not have any branding at the race in Bahrain. The company gave no further details.
Another two brands will be missing from the McLaren team at the Sakhir desert circuit in Bahrain, though both the companies involved say this is for operational reasons.
Diageo says its Johnnie Walker whisky brand will not be on display because of local cultural sensitivities about alcohol.
“In common with other Grands Prix in Muslim countries and elsewhere, for the Bahrain race we had always planned to respect local customs and laws and not to activate Johnnie Walker branding on the cars or drivers,” a Diageo spokeswoman said.
Vodafone, which also sponsors the McLaren team, said logos of its Middle East partner Zain would feature on the team’s cars and driver uniforms in Bahrain rather than its own brand.
This was a commercial decision rather than a political one, said Vodafone, which is ending its sponsorship of the team at the end of the season.