Monday 19 February 2018

F1: Ecclestone rejects pleas to cancel Bahrain Grand Prix despite violence

Ian Parkes

BERNIE Ecclestone sees no reason for this season's Bahrain Grand Prix not to go ahead despite violence flaring again on the island kingdom.

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the 'Day of Rage' when protesters took to the streets in a bid to oust the ruling government, since when more than 60 people have been killed.

As demonstrators attempted to reclaim Pearl Roundabout, which last year proved to be the focal point of their protests, police were forced to use tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets as they in turn were met with petrol bombs.

With armoured vehicles deployed and many arrests made, a member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights launched a fresh plea for the race, scheduled for April 20-22, to again be cancelled as occurred last year.

Maryam al-Khawaja, head of the foreign relations office, said: "The government promised changes last year, but no changes have taken place because there is no incentive to make them. And tortures are still taking place.

"The government want the message to go out that it is business as usual.

"But (yesterday) armoured vehicles went into residential areas for the first time since last year's martial law ended in June.

"I have heard reports of protesters being thrown from rooftops and others having legs broken. That it is why Formula One should make a stand and call this race off.

"If the F1 race were cancelled it would help give a message to the Bahrain government.

"I want to ask Bernie Ecclestone 'does he have children?'. If he cares for their future he should recognise the people of Bahrain want freedom and dignity for their children.

"Their children are just as valuable. He should be sending a very clear message to the Bahrain government that what is happening with the children of Bahrain is not okay."

Formula One supremo Ecclestone, however, believes the incidents he fully expected to occur yesterday do not warrant the cancellation of this year's race.

"I expected there was going to be a big uprising, with the anniversary," Ecclestone told The Guardian.

"But I think what happened, apparently, was that here 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."

Governing body the FIA are firmly in support of the race being staged, believing it would serve a positive purpose.

A spokesman said: "The FIA, like many in the diplomatic community in the kingdom, the main political opposition, as well as the UK-Bahrain All-Party Parliamentary Group writing in the Times, believes the staging of a grand prix would be beneficial in bridging some of the difficulties Bahrain is experiencing.

"The FIA is not in a position to influence political matters in a sovereign country such as Bahrain and we can only wish for a long-term peaceful solution.

"A number of reforms have been enacted, others are going through legislation. We warmly welcome this, as does the motorsport community which we represent."

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