Bahrain cannot guarantee the safety of Formula One teams and spectators at this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix amid escalating protests in the Gulf state, the former British police officer who is managing security at the track has said.
John Yates warned the police would retaliate with live rounds if necessary, he told the UK's The Guardian, although he doubts this will be necessary.
“People say can we guarantee security. Of course we can't guarantee security. I'd be a fool to sit here and say that,” the former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police said.
“Is it possible there might be an incursion on the track? Of course there is. It's an open event. Can you stop some idiot running onto the track? There have been other incidents of track incursions,” he added.
“The police will have all the options you would expect. If the opposition started firing live ammunition, the police would respond with live," he said, adding: "But I don't think that's likely.”
Yates’s admission comes as tensions in the kingdom rise amid increasing demonstrations in the capital Manama and outlying villages.
Last year’s Grand Prix race had to be canceled following a bloody crackdown on protesters which left more than 30 dead, prompting condemnation from human rights groups.
More demonstrations have been called for in the week leading up the event, the Gulf state's biggest sporting spectacle.
Formula One’s governing body, FIA, confirmed last week that the race would be going ahead, despite calls from activists for it to be canceled.
Nearly half of ArabianBusiness.com readers (49 percent) said they were strongly opposed to this year’s race being allowed to go ahead, according to an online poll. Nearly one third (32 percent) said the race should not be called off.
Just six percent of those polled said they somewhat agreed with the FIA’s decision to allow the race to go ahead as the security of participants and spectators cannot be guaranteed while 13 percent said security would remain a major concern.
Zayed Alzayani, the chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit, has said it is safe to race despite some continued demonstrations. “You have some stuff going on in villages, but it’s nothing that can't be handled,” he said. “I have no doubt at all that Formula One is not a target, not the teams, not the media.”
The race is financially important for Bahrain, he added. “The country has gone through a tough year, we are still wounded in some aspects or another and we are on the way to regaining our health, so to speak. I think the race will be positive to the country.”