Bahrain hopes to hold F1 race this year
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain has asked Formula One's governing body to reschedule its Grand Prix race when it meets Friday, insisting the country is returning to normal despite ongoing political tensions for months.
Zayed Rashid Alzayani, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit which holds the Bahrain Grand Prix, told The Associated Press the Gulf country is ready to "hold the race today." Alzayani would like the race to be run in October or November to coincide with the Abu Dhabi GP on Nov. 13. A decision will be made Friday at the World Motor Sport Council meeting in Barcelona.
The race had been called off by Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa because of anti-government protest that have left 30 dead.
"We feel we are in position to have that event back," Alzayani said. "Things have calmed down tremendously in Bahrain. Life is back to normal. We are happy to have the race anytime really."
Alzayani said holding the race would bolster spirits of Bahrainis. He estimated the race alone could infuse $500 million into the country and "could be a nice catalyst to re-ignite the economy."
"We went through a rough patch and we need nice moments in our history now for the nation," Alzayani said. "Formula One has always been a time where Bahrain showcases itself to the world not only as a sports arena but as society, a community that Bahrain as a nation has to offer. Formula One can bring back joy to the country."
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has led the campaign to reschedule the race but doing so has angered some local and international rights groups. The New York-based Human Rights Watch sent a letter last week to the governing body FIA and the Formula One Teams Association, asking them to take into account the abuses of anti-government protesters when making their decision.
"Sadly, serious violations like arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, and alleged torture by Bahraini authorities predate the imposition of martial law in mid-March," said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. "There is little reason to think that ending martial law on June 1 will make much difference in Bahrain's menacing human rights climate."
Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said Tuesday his group opposes rescheduling the race because of what he said was the government's ongoing crackdown, which has included arbitrary detentions and torture of Shiite protesters. All segments of society have been targeted, he said, including at least 29 employees of the race circuit, who were detained for taking part in the protest that began in February.
"It's not a good message to the human rights defenders and reformists in Bahrain," Rajab said.
Alzayani acknowledged that 24 of his 108 employees were detained. But he insisted the circuit is above politics.
"We still have employees working who are Shiite, Sunnis and Christians," he said. "We never looked at race or sect thing. We look at productivity and loyalty to the job. They weren't detained because they were Shiite but because they had cases against them. Some have been released. Some are still under dentition."