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Bahrain Grand Prix ‘Not On,’ After Teams Object

Bahrain Grand Prix 'Not On,' After Teams Object -

The Lede - The New York Times News Blog
June 8, 2011, 10:06 am
Bahrain Grand Prix ‘Not On,’ After Teams Object
Video posted online by activists in Bahrain on Sunday, after the security forces broke up a Shiite religious procession.

Updated | 1:48 p.m. Just five days after the governing body of Formula One racing approved a decision to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix in October, the sport’s most powerful man has admitted that the race cannot go ahead because of objections from the drivers.

Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday, Bernie Ecclestone, the chief executive of the Formula One Group, acknowledged that the governing body had failed to obtain the necessary consent of the teams before announcing that the race, which was put on hold in March because of political unrest in Bahrain, would be held later this year.

“Hopefully we can return in the future, but of course it’s not on,” Mr. Ecclestone told BBC Sport. “The schedule cannot be rescheduled without the agreement of the participants, they’re the facts.”

On Tuesday, the Formula One Teams’ Association, wrote to the governing body, citing logistical and safety concerns and arguing that extending the season by adding a race in Bahrain in October would be “unbearable to our staff.”

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Max Mosely, the former head of the governing body, explained that the the Formula One schedule can never be changed without the prior, unanimous agreement of all of the teams.

The teams sent their letter the same day that, an organization that has gathered more than 450,000 signatures on an Internet petition calling for the race to be canceled because of human rights concerns, released a leaked copy of a report by a fact-finding delegation that visited Bahrain last week on behalf of the race organizers, one day before a state of emergency was lifted and protesters returned to the streets.

The report’s author, Carlos Gracia, a senior member of the sport’s governing body, described a visit to a shopping mall and meetings with government officials and a representative of a human rights body established by Bahrain’s government last year. According to Mr. Gracia, the rights advocate, who was appointed by Bahrain’s king, said that “no human rights were violated” during the crackdown on dissent in the country.

Mr. Gracia also described a visit to a shopping center in Bahrain, where he was “surprised to find a group of young people who were petitioning for” the Formula One race to be reinstated. “I was invited to sign and did so solely as a gesture of good will.”

Over all, Mr. Gracia reported that he had found an “atmosphere of total calm and stability” in the country. He concluded, “Life in Bahrain is completely normal again.”

Mr. Mosely, the former head of the governing body — who comes at discussions of autocracy from an interesting perspective — told The BBC that Mr. Gracia is a “very, very nice man,” but speaks no English, and so might have had a hard time seeing past the surface that was presented to him by his hosts in Bahrain.

As Britain’s Press Association reported, Mr. Gracia said in an interview with a Spanish newspaper, “What I found was an open government that offers the opposition the chance to speak.”

Bahrain’s official news agency has not yet responded to the news or removed the banner ad at the top of every page of its Web site promoting the race on Oct. 30.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the United Nations’ top human rights official, Navi Pillay, called on Bahrain’s state news agency to retract a report that “grossly misrepresented” a statement she made during a meeting last week with officials from Bahrain. The news agency reported on Saturday that Ms. Pillay had said, “Certain information which we received about the developments in Bahrain are untrue.”

The National, an Abu Dhabi newspaper, reports that Ms. Pillay’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, called that a “distortion of her words,” adding, “She will formally request the government officials who attended the meeting to issue a correction.”

The newspaper also noted that gatherings by members of Bahrain’s Shiite majority community were dispersed with force on Sunday. Zoi Constantine, a correspondent for The National in Beirut, wrote:

Despite outward conciliatory moves, opposition groups say that peaceful protests have once again been met with violence by security forces. Opposition activists also said police broke up Shiite religious processions held in various locations around the country on Sunday, using tear gas, rubber bullets, sound grenades and birdshot.

Video that appeared to show the security forces firing at a Shiite procession was posted online by Bahraini activists on Sunday, along with this clip, said to show a protester being detained:

In a statement, Bahrain’s interior ministry said that “the small groups that security forces dealt with on Sunday were groups that misused a religious occasion, engaged in riots and acts of vandalism and blocked roads which are illegal activities.”

Online, the news that the race will almost certainly not be held was hailed by supporters of Bahrain’s protest movement but criticized by some members of the country’s business community. Hazem Janahi, the managing director of a venture capital firm in Bahrain, wrote on Twitter that “more poor Bahrainis will lose their job in the tourism” sector because of the cancellation. He added that if human rights concerns are to be taken into account, the Formula One tour should now cancel its race in China as well.
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