F1 race to go ahead despite widespread human rights infringements in Bahrain
Sport is being used more and more to present a sanitised view of a country and to hide or obscure human rights abuses. Russia with the Olympics and Qatar with the World Cup are both examples of dubious regimes using sport to enhance their image. In the case of FIFA there is the issue of massive corruption within the organisation itself.
The latest example is Formula 1 and the race to take place in Bahrain. The country has scant regard for human rights. Arrests, unfair trials, the use of torture are all commonplace. In 2017 the last newspaper was closed down. In a previous blog, we highlighted a local firm in Porton (a village near Salisbury, UK) which supplies spyware to this regime.
As the US State Dept. said in a report on the country in 2017:
The most significant human rights issues [in Bahrain] included reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces; allegations of torture of detainees and prisoners; harsh and potentially life-threatening conditions of detention; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, including by the press and via the internet; restriction of academic and cultural events; restrictions on the rights of association and assembly; allegations of restrictions on freedom of movement, including arbitrary citizenship revocation; and limits on Shia political participation.
The F1 site itself claims to respect human rights issues in its policy;
- The Formula 1 companies are committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally.
The problem is they do not. Before races there is a severe clampdown in the area and protestors can be shot. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy is one of 15 human rights organisations to have written to F1 president Jean Todt calling on them to act in the case of Najah Yusuf who was imprisoned last year for criticising the regime on Facebook. The response yesterday is not encouraging:
It’s quite easy,” he said. “We are here for a sport event, not for a political event. That means – first of all, I was surprised that there are still some political turmoil which I don’t think is the reality.
I think that the reality is just that a few people want to create troubles and Formula One is here to make sport, to entertain the people. We should not be involved in any political questions. This, people should do, who are here, who are living here. The government, whoever, that’s their job, not our job. [Statement 30 March 2019, Our italics]
Which rather conflicts with its policy statement above. It seems as though nothing a country does can stop the likes of F1 or other sporting regimes from carrying on their activities in a country with dubious or dire human rights. As long as the money’s right …