The Last Word: Weekend at Bernie's is beyond bad
There is no point getting too worked up about Formula One in Bahrain – questions of morality do not apply to multi-millionaires
Politics has no place in sport, but so too does sport have no place in politics. Which came first? Sport in politics, politics in sport, the chicken or the egg, Bernie Ecclestone or Bahrain's royal family?
It was almost amusing watching Ecclestone, that Pierre de Coubertin of our modern Corinthian age, standing high and proud on his stilt-bearing soapbox, declaring that the race would go ahead to protect the sanctity of sport. It was if this was the 150th renewal of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Not the eighth.
Except Bernie's bleating was far from amusing because outside the Bahrain International Circuit tear gas filled the air, just as everyone – yes, including Bernie – knew it would. If the Bahraini establishment was intent on using Formula One's spectacle as a PR tool then so too were the protesters.
In truth, they would have been fools not to take the chance of emphasising their dissatisfaction with the regime, with the world's cameras in attendance. And how numerous those cameras were. With all those lenses at the ready, all those news reporters standing by with their notebooks at the ready, the protesters would have felt as obliged to protest as the racers had felt obliged to race.
As Bernie said: "The show must go on."
As most sane people now recognise, the show should never have been planned in the first place; not if F1 didn't want to be responsible for bloodshed in the pursuit of sustaining its multiple multi-millionaires.
Granted, it isn't the job of sport or its leaders to deem which country is good and which is evil. Where are they expected to draw the line. China? Russia? The US? Here, even? One of the most astute in the last week of pretty worthless and superficial of debates arrived, inevitably, on Twitter: "We should cancel the British Grand Prix. We can't endorse an organisation that endorses repressive foreign regimes."
Where does it all end? Eventually immorality's vicious circle catches all but the nuns in its jaws and that's essentially why sport should always hesitate when drawing up moral guidelines. But one it must surely follow is that it is wrong to stage an event in a country where, as a result, you are aware there is the likelihood for death and destruction. Particularly when it is as obvious as Bahrain in 2012.
Bernie's arguments to the contrary didn't make much sense – certainly the baloney that he is merely trying to develop his sport. That's like Bonnie and Clyde insisting they were going from town to town emptying post offices in an attempt to develop their knowledge of American culture.
Formula One rides in when the coffers are at their fullest – and will ride out again when they are empty. Quick and easy. Just as the bank-pickers like it.
However, this amoral circus does serve one purpose. F1 should remind other sports of the perils of selling yourself to the highest bidder, regardless of their identity. Of course, in this regard, politics has been milking sport for just as long as sport has been milking sport. Bernie is not the creator, simply the curator in this money-making museum.
Think of that rumble in that Zaire jungle; think of Mike Gatting's rebels in South Africa; think of each and every Olympic Games or football World Cup. The nicest thing to say about Ecclestone is that he is the most transparent of those sporting exploiters.
Don King must up his game. Bernie is taking the outrageous to a new level. He travelled with a police escort to this morning's Grand Prix, knowing the absurdity of the situation. Formula One is a dangerous business, but for one race only, the safest place to be in Bahrain was at the wheel of a car doing 200mph approaching a hairpin.
And so it will continue. Nations know sport is willing to prostitute itself and so they buy up events in a blaze of hypocrisy. Very quickly, the billionaire individuals are copping on and so buy up individual clubs, with agendas we couldn't possibly fathom. We, the fans, meanwhile, are unwitting but the most vital accomplices, ensuring the entire scam works with our barely conditional faith.
Yet every now and again, the matrix wobbles, the curtain falls open and we are allowed a glimpse of the cynical mechanisms operating these sick charades. For example, Bahrain, and a race between cars which threatened, quite knowingly, to incite life-losing disorder.
We went to bed last night hoping it would pass as peacefully as possible. But we should also have been confident that the good name of sport and the much-criticised name of Bernie Ecclestone will have negotiated their way through the debris. They always do.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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