Wednesday, 18 April 2012

How Formula 1 is losing its relevance

In 2011 Formula One cancelled its Bahrain fixture due to protests and unrest from the citizens in that country.  The cancellation was borne out of safety concerns; it was not done as a matter of principal or as some showing of solidarity with the citizens.  Protests continue in 2012 but Formula 1 has been promised by the government that the protestors will pose no threat to the paddock's safety.  Therefore the race is continuing as planned.

We don't get involved
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone's view that "We shouldn't be getting involved with other people's politics" is a banally convenient excuse to focus solely on the commercial aspect of the event and ignore the social ones.  Hosting a Grand Prix in any country is an endorsement of its government due to the international standing of the sport.  Furthermore no Grand Prix is held without consent and support of that country's government.

Ecclestone concluded: "If it was a pop singer, they would be there and they would sing."

In the interests of being diplomatic and objective, many have called the Bahrain situation a "sensitive, complex issue" among other things.  However, this is what we know:

• Bahrain's government is referred to as a "Constitutional Monarchy."  The word constitutional is a misnomer if you ask me, because the same Al Khalifa family has been running Bahrain since 1783.  They have held on to power longer than arch dictators Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe combined.
• Bahrain does not have elections.  In most parts of the world, they would call that the hallmark of a dictatorship.
• Ongoing reports of heavy handedness by authorities on protesters continue to crop up.  Are they all false and are all of these protestors really that unruly to warrant shelling and rubber bullets?  Or is it perhaps an attempt to quash the uprising and voice of the people?
• Half the cabinet has been installed by the Al Khalifa family themselves.

Few things annoy me more than excessive diplomacy and trying too hard to see things from the other person's point of view, especially when one side is clearly the aggressor or culprit.  Wipe away the words "Constitutional Monarchy" and look at the substance of their rule, and you have to conclude the current government of Bahrain are nothing more than a family of dictators.

It is the very failure to identify them as dictators and endlessly trying to "see the story from both sides" that allows such dictators to continue their reign indefinitely.  A line needs to be drawn: sometimes things are indeed black and white with no shades of grey.  The majority of Bahrainis toil and live lives far removed from the opulence of the Al Khalifa family and their connections.  Formula 1 does not help by taking their circus to Bahrain without so much as an utterance in protest against the Bahraini dictatorship, or a single word in support of the protestors' human rights.

The drivers
The only driver to speak out against this was Australian Mark Webber.  "F1 should have taken a much firmer stance earlier this year, rather than constantly delaying its decision in hope of being able to reschedule the race," he said. "It would have sent a very clear message about its position on something as fundamental as human rights."

Every single other driver has been silent, as per their PR Department's instructions.  But if Mark Webber could break rank and do it, then the other drivers could have too.  From this event alone one can conclude that Webber is a man of greater principle and courage than the other drivers.

The influence
Ferrari World - the massive theme park in honour of Prancing Horse - is in Dubai.  Mubadala Development, owned by the Dubai government, used to own a stake in Ferrari.  More tellingly, a large stake of McLaren is owned by Mumtalakat - Bahrain's sovereign wealth fund.    Formula 1's links with the middle east may not be deeply entrenched, but it is definitely not insignificant.

In an age where dictators are being overthrown and people have a strong desire to no longer be suppressed, Formula 1 remains a blissfully ignorant money driven dinosaur.  Sure it's a business like any other, but any modern business knows they have to adopt a more encompassing approach to things that extend  beyond the bottom line.  Those who don't will quickly lose the goodwill of society.

The reason Formula 1 didn't go to Bahrain in 2011 was not to show their disapproval of the Bahraini "government"; rather it was through concerns for their own safety.  Their motives and rationale have been exposed.  This is not about showing political support; this is about basic human rights and Formula 1 has shown it does not give a hoot about them.

Just like how you never saw WWE in the same way once you learned that it is staged and choreographed, so Formula 1 will surely lose its meaning to many as the cars whizz around this Sunday in a country where not far away the blood of its citizens is being shed on the streets.

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