Leading article: A sporting decision that betrays the people of Bahrain

Saturday 04 June 2011 00:00 BST

With the decision to re- instate Bahrain to the Grand Prix circuit, Formula One has demonstrated that it exists in a moral vacuum. Yesterday the F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone stressed that safety, not money, was the paramount consideration.

It appears not to have crossed Mr Ecclestone's mind that moral principle should also be taken into consideration when deciding whether Bahrain should be welcomed back into the circuit.

There were others in the motor racing world capable of grasping this. The former F1 champion Damon Hill and the Red Bull driver Mark Webber are both opposed to the decision. Max Mosley, the former FIA president, argues that F1 is being used by the Bahrain authorities as an "instrument of repression". This description is precisely right.

Zayed Alzayani, the chairman of the Bahrain Grand Prix, argued yesterday that "stability has returned" to the kingdom. What he means is that the Bahrain security forces, reinforced by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, have successfully bludgeoned the Shia protest movement off the streets. The regime has behaved with abhorrent barbarity since the pro-reform protests began in February and unleashed an orgy of sectarian bigotry. The demonstrators' camp on the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama was forcibly cleared. Shia mosques have been demolished. Doctors who treated injured protesters have been arrested and tried in special courts. Two protesters have been sentenced to death. The state of emergency rule was lifted this week, but reports indicate that the torture of democracy activists is still taking place. Shia employees are being purged from government jobs. In a grim irony, even Shia employees of the Bahrain Grand Prix have been persecuted.

And the reward for those who are perpetrating such outrages is to be invited to host an international motor sport event. This is exactly the kind of vote of confidence that the Bahrain regime wanted. They believe that this will show that they are firmly back in charge, that their behaviour is deemed acceptable by the outside world. As Maryam Al-Khawaja of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights argues, this sends a crushing message to the protesters that they are forgotten. F1's leaders should be ashamed of themselves over this decision. But they are not alone. While the US and Britain have condemned the brutal repression taking place in Syria, and have launched a military intervention to displace Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, they have said nothing about the brutal behaviour of the Bahraini authorities. The presence of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet in the kingdom and our own Government's long-standing ties to the Bahrain royal family appear to have intimidated Barack Obama and David Cameron into silence. The fact that Bahrain is closely allied to the oil-producing giant, Saudi Arabia, also seems to have blunted the appetite of our leaders to stand up for democrats in the island kingdom.

Max Mosley predicts that yesterday's decision will prove to be a public relations disaster for F1 and that commercial sponsors will now launch boycotts. The sport certainly deserves no less. But we should be in no doubt that the moral vacuum in the West when it comes to Bahrain extends far beyond the race track.

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