James Lawton: Dear Mr Ecclestone, the show really shouldn't go on

By going to Bahrain, F1 is providing aid to a regime that treats its people like wild dogs
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone is not exactly alone in his apparent touting for business wherever he can find it.

Think of the Olympics turning a blind eye to the streets of Mexico City smeared with the blood of student protesters in 1968, if you don't want to go all the way back to Berlin in 1936.

This isn't to mention the elbowing of concern over Tibet and countless other invasions of freedom in the build-up to Beijing four years ago. Think also of Fifa hawking the World Cup to the Argentina of the generals in 1978 and the money-stench of their decision to go to Qatar in 2022. But this Bahrain business does have a reek all of its own.

It's bad enough that part of the shilling of the event has been provided by John Yates, the man from the Met who resigned over the phone-hacking scandal and only last week assured Jean Todt, head of the motor racing authority, that the streets of his adopted dictatorship were safer than those of London.

He also wanted to assure visitors that all those locals who don't go out on to the streets agitating for some basic human rights are quite the most delightful people.

The first thing to remember about F1 is that it operates in an extraordinary bubble of huge budgets and unbridled ambition.

Paul Di Resta, the hugely committed young driver of Force India, several of whose team members were reviewing the quality of Yates's security advice while booking flights home after colleagues were caught in a petrol bomb blast caused by one of the local royal family's less delightful subjects, was honest enough about his instincts.

He was a professional driver who was simply waiting for instructions from the people who pay his wages. Indirectly, these of course currently include the rulers of a nation extremely reluctant to acknowledge not just the Arab Spring but the arrival of the 21st century.

Di Resta declares, with a commendable absence of platitudes, "I'm pretty neutral. It's how I've felt for the last couple of weeks, although there is an edge on things at the moment. At the end of the day if there is a race on I want to be racing."

The majority of competitors said pretty much the same thing at Munich 40 years ago after the massacre of Israeli athletes and coaches. The then IOC president Avery Brundage, an American plutocrat, said that nothing could stop the Games. At the end of it they sent a host of pretty balloons into the sky.

It is not so hard to try to understand how it is when you are an athlete utterly preoccupied with the challenge you have set yourself – or someone like Di Resta, driving out on the limits of his ambition and knowing how fine the margin is between success and failure.

But maybe it is reasonable to expect more from those who can afford to step back from the race, who can say that sometimes new imperatives are placed upon the playpen of sport. In this case, one of them should be recognition by the rulers of Formula One that by going to Bahrain they are providing much aid and comfort to a regime that treats so many of its people no better than the wild dogs.

If this doesn't demand a red light, you have to wonder what does?