I wouldn’t normally comment on Formula 1. It gets too much attention and blanket TV coverage as it is. On a skill level, I regard rally drivers as superior but more to the fact, I don’t understand the idea of watching a GP for two hours with very little action at the top of the race. Imagine actually paying hundreds of pounds to see the leader every 2 minutes. Your only comment could be ‘ahh the order is the same.’ Or ‘he must have been overtaken.’ That said, I’ve never been to petrol head so maybe I just don’t get it.
The other side of F1 is the ‘glitz and glamour’ of the event. After all it is really a huge marketing event. The attending fans don’t pay the bills. It’s the advertising and that explains the Jackson Pollock jumpsuit and cars. This would be just irritating but it also deeply affects the ‘sport.’ Drivers are sponsored by their parents through the go-cart stages and later by large corporate entities. Fernando Alonso may be a talent but the backing Santander provides him and his team is vital to getting him the drives. It’s not an every man’s sport.
Last weekend F1 made its annual trip to Bahrain. This jolly is financed by the state as a marketing facade for the country. Dubai and Qatar run similar subsidised events but neither of those states does so under the cloud of social, political and economic repression of its own people. The argument over migrant workers in Dubai and Qatar can wait for another time. The reason there are considerably less migrant workers in Bahrain is the relative poverty (in Gulf terms) and the requirement the people do the ordinary jobs usually reserved in the Gulf for the Indian subcontinent. But not everyone has to work.
There is no financial reason for this relative poverty. Bahrain isn’t as rich as the other Gulf states but it is not poor. The reasons are religious and political. Bahrain’s rulers are Sunni yet the majority of the population are Shia. This explains the unrest there recently and the intervention by Saudi Arabia, another Sunni state, to protect the ruling family. The uprisings and weekly protests by the majority Shias calls for greater access to economic and political opportunity. Naturally the state isn’t budging and now refers to these marches and demonstrations as the work of terrorists backed by Iran. The presence of the US Seventh Fleet is actually just an ominous co-incidence.
The royal family holds the keys to the wealth and puts on shows like F1 as a facade. F1’s apathy to the situation and in particular Bernie Ecclestone’s comments such as “human rights are that the people that live in a country abide by the laws of that country. I might be in Africa doing 200km/h with no problem. If I come to England and do the same thing, I’m in trouble” are an abdication of responsibility. Ecclestone seems to have no idea what human rights are or that they are enshrined in international law, (however problematic and hegemonic that can be in other respects). He said the rulers of Bahrain were ‘stupid’ to host the GP as it gave a platform to the protesters, failing to think beyond the dollar signs. Eccelstones’ further statement that he would consider a GP in Syria is in poor taste. I am also surprised the sponsors are happy to be associated with this GP. That is an abdication of corporate responsibility (again however weak-willed that often is).
I am not arguing for change in Bahrain. I’m asking for understanding and the opportunity for peace. F1 is being used as an international facade, a token gesture to the world. In reality the GP is held under an embarrassing lockdown. There needs to be compromise and a respect for human rights. These issues are not going away. And F1 and Bernie Ecclestone need to understand that driving irresponsibly and denying people the ability to drive their own lives are not remotely the same thing.