According to the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the Formula One governing body, the Bahrain Grand Prix is due to be rescheduled for October 30. This year's race was originally due to take place on March 11 but was called off indefinitely because of the level of violent unrest taking place across the country.
At a meeting in Barcelona, however, members of the World Sport Motor Council are said to have voted 'unanimously' to return to Bahrain. The FIA, in a statement, said that the reinstatement reflected a 'spirit of reconciliation' whilst the Chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit tweeted, "As a country we've faced difficult times, but stability has returned."
This is a decision which will inflame an already toxic situation in Bahrain. Since the anti-government protests began in February more than 30 people have been killed. There have been more than 800 arrests and repeated claims of torture, violent intimidation and physical abuse made against the security services.
According to today's newspapers 47 doctors and nurses were put on trial for the supposed crime of treating injured pro-democracy demonstrators. For their troubles they were beaten with wooden boards embedded with nails and made to eat faeces. They were also deprived of sleep and forced to stand for days without moving.
In an effort to show the outside world that things were returning to normal, the Bahraini authorities lifted a state of emergency last Wednesday. Despite this, the repression continued. According to Human Rights Watch, the security forces have, with the help of the Saudis,
"launched a brutal, systematic crackdown against protesters, human rights advocates and opposition groups. Hundreds have been arrested in nightly raids on their homes and at security checkpoints, taken to unknown locations and detained for weeks without access to their lawyers and family members."
Quite how the FIA could make such a misguided decision, given the reports coming out of Bahrain, is a matter of deep concern. However, the British Government needs to do all it can to persuade them to back down. Already there have been reports that protesters are planning to come out in force on October 30 and show their displeasure at the decision.
The safety of everyone connected with the sport, including the drivers, would surely be compromised if the race went ahead. Little wonder that many within the sport, including Damon Hill, Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber have all voiced their concern. Webber spoke for many when he wrote on his website:
“As a competitor I do not feel at all comfortable going there to compete in an event when, despite reassurances to the contrary, it seems inevitable that it will cause more tension for the people of that country."
Common sense needs to prevail. The FIA cannot possibly allow this event to take place given everything that is taking place in Bahrain. We are often told not to mix sport with politics. I'm afraid this is one of those occasions when politicians need to step in and do everything in their power to prevent an injustice taking place. Protecting the dignity and safety of the people of Bahrain is far more important than an annual motor race.