Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has said the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead this April, dubbing yesterday’s anniversary protests as “a lot of kids”.
Ecclestone, the sport’s commercial rights holder, said he had no intention of cancelling the up and coming race in the Gulf state unless advised to do so by Bahrain authorities.
"I expected there was going to be a big uprising [yesterday] with the anniversary,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
“But I think what happened, apparently, was that there were a lot of kids having a go at the police. I don't think it's anything serious at all.
"It doesn't change our position in any shape or form. If the people in Bahrain [the government] say, 'Look Bernie, it wouldn't be good for you to come over here,' then I would think again. That is what they said last year."
The 80 year-old supremo was backed by the UK-Bahrain All-Party Parliamentary Group writing in the Times newspaper yesterday, who said the race was necessary to relieve some of the ongoing tensions in island state.
Last month, former F1 champion Damon Hill also weighed in favour of the event, noting how “a lot had changed” since last year.
Bahrain’s season-opening race at Sakhir circuit was postponed last March after widespread political unrest broke out in the country and an estimated 40 anti-government demonstrators died.
Though efforts were made to reschedule the race, the Gulf Kingdom was eventually dropped from the 2011 calendar in June following objections from Formula One teams and drivers.
Bahrain reportedly paid around £25m ($39.2m) in hosting fees for last year’s scrapped three-day event, after refusing an offer of a refund from F1’s Jersey-based parent company, Delta Topco.
Speculation about whether the race will take place this year has grown in the wake of ongoing clashes between security forces and protesters, which have continued into 2012.
Human Rights Groups, who have long been urging Formula One teams and fans to boycott the April leg, made fresh pleas for its cancellation on the one year anniversary of the uprisings yesterday, as violence once again gripped the capital city of Manama.
According to reports, demonstrators threw petrol bombs at the police, who used teargas and armoured vehicles to quell the unrest.
“We don’t want to see Formula One to come to Bahrain,” Nabeel Rajab, vice president for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights told Arabian Business in January.
“It’s better for them, it’s better for the Bahrainis and it’s better for human rights if they don’t come this year to Bahrain.”
Other activists, quoted in the Guardian, said torture is still taking place in the country to this day.
A group of leading British peers, including the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, have joined human rights groups in their vote against the race, also in a letter to the Times newspaper last week.
They expressed their "concern [about] the decision to go ahead with the race", adding: “we do not believe the time is right to return to Bahrain."For all the latest sports news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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