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Sat 4 Jun 2011 10:01 AM

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Human rights groups slam Bahrain F1 decision

New York based Human Rights Watch says decision to reschedule race is 'highly questionable'

Human rights groups slam Bahrain F1 decision
Action from the Bahrain F1 circuit during the 2010 race. (Getty Images)

Formula One’s ruling body was criticised by human rights groups after rescheduling a race in Bahrain amid anti-government protests.

The Paris-based International Automobile Federation, known as FIA, agreed to stage the race following a fact-finding mission, spokesman Norman Howell said in an e-mail.

The race will be staged on Oct. 30, replacing a scheduled stop in India, FIA said in a statement. The Indian race will be delayed until an as-yet unspecified date and be the final round of this year’s championship.

“This decision reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain, which is evident from the strong support the race receives from the government and all major parties in Bahrain, including the largest opposition group,” the racing body said.

It said the move was a “means of helping to unite people.”

The race had been slated to open the season on March 13. Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa suspended it on Feb. 21, three days after five people were killed as police broke up demonstrations by activists seeking democratic changes.

“It seems like a highly questionable decision by Formula One,” Joe Stork, the deputy director of the region for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a telephone interview.

Teams and drivers now have to make a decision “influenced by financial reasons and personal feelings,” Stork said.

Cancelling the event would have cost Formula One, owned by London-based buyout firm CVC Capital Partners, the $40 million fee it charges Bahraini authorities, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported March 15, citing series Chief Executive Officer Bernie Ecclestone.

Human-rights activists in Bahrain said they would use the publicity of the most-watched motor sport to show their discontent with the government.

“On the one hand, Formula One isn’t respecting human rights, but on the other, it’s a good chance for the people to express how they feel on television worldwide,” Mohamed Al- Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said from Manama, the capital.

On June 1, Bahrain lifted a state of emergency, warning in a statement carried by the official Bahrain News Agency against activities that could “affect security or harm the national peace and safety.”

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as hundreds of protesters marched towards Pearl Square in Manama today following the funeral of an elderly woman who died yesterday from the effects of tear gas, Al-Maskati said.

Bahrain has hosted Formula One since 2004 at a $150 million racetrack in the desert south of Manama.

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Jassim 8 years ago

what maskati is saying is full of lies. you have to report credible information, not just listen to anyone. the old man died from natural causes. check with all relevant sources if you wish. Returning F1 is a victory for Bahraini people and we are proud of it. small group of people have their Iranian agenda and wish to damage Bahrain in whichever way. please don't support them by conveying their lies.

John David 8 years ago

F1 is not the jurisdiction of human rights groups. Trying to hijack an event for its own agenda is shameful tactic of HRW.

F1 is a popular high-velocity sport and helps create a vibrant sports culture, industry, ecosystem and environment in Bahrain. Trying to mix and confuse sports with politics is wrong. I condemn the HRW.