Max Mosley, former president of the FIA, says Formula 1 should not host the Bahrain Grand Prix, and become a tool of the government and thus an instrument of oppression.
Max Mosley is the former president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)
One of the problems for international sports bodies is the regrettable need to overlook human rights violations. Without a blind eye to acts which would be a breach of, say, the European Convention on Human Rights, there would be very few countries where you could sanction sporting competitions. This includes at least one close ally of the United Kingdom.
So when, if at all, should a sports federation draw the line and refuse to hold an event? I suggest this should be when the event is going to be used by a country’s government to help suppress dissent or otherwise breach human rights.
When that happens, a sport becomes part of the machinery of government rather than mere entertainment. This is happening in Bahrain. It is quite clear that the government’s main reason for wanting to hold the grand prix is to give the impression that all is well.
Sport does have a political function. It can draw together groups and factions, even countries, which are otherwise at loggerheads.
Motor sport has many examples of this: a World Championship rally criss-crossing the border in Ireland with the support of both communities; rallies in the Lebanon producing a temporary truce during the civil war; similar effects a few years ago in the Balkans; there is even an Israeli presence in the Middle-East Rally Championship, although, for understandable reasons, it is not obvious.
However, an essential element of all this is neutrality. A sport cannot take sides or even be more closely associated with one side than the other. It can act as a catalyst for peace but must never be partisan. The fact that the report of the representative the FIA sent to Bahrain makes no mention of visiting the Shiite villages, or interviewing detainees or seeking the views of reputable organisations like Amnesty International, speaks for itself.
It is worth remembering that the trouble in Bahrain began with peaceful protest. The crowds were not seeking the removal of the ruling family, merely a move towards democracy and rights for the Shiite majority comparable to those enjoyed by the Sunni ruling elite.
These modest demands were met with brutal repression. Demonstrators were shot dead. Protesters were imprisoned and, according to credible reports, hideously mistreated and in some cases tortured or even killed. Doctors and nurses who treated the injured were themselves arrested and imprisoned.
And when even these extreme measures failed to crush the protests, the Bahrain government called in troops from neighbouring Saudi Arabia to eliminate all opposition by the use of naked force.
There are now reports of 47 doctors and nurses being put on trial, accused of treating injured demonstrators. Even in war, enemy prisoners are not denied medical treatment.
It is understandable that the Bahrain government now wants to clean up its image and distract attention from what is going on. And a major sporting event, shown on television all over the world, is ideal for this purpose. But Formula One should not allow itself to be used in this way.
To take part in this deception is to become a tool of the Bahrain government and thus an instrument of oppression. No sport should allow that to happen.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.