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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Why I'll Be Watching The Bahrain Grand Prix

Let me be completely upfront from the start. I am one of those who will sit down at lunchtime and watch the Bahrain Grand Prix. What's more, I will feel no pangs of guilt about doing so. Let me explain why.

As a Scottish nationalist, no-one would expect me to do anything other than support pro-democracy movements wherever they are in the world. Bahrain is no different and, accordingly, I wholeheartedly support the Shiite majority in their fight against the Sunni elite for greater political freedom and respect for human rights. I am as concerned about these issues as any of the people calling for the race to be cancelled. Indeed, I am certain that I am more concerned than many of them.

I have a real problem with Ed Milliband, Douglas Alexander and Yvette Cooper calling for the race to be called off. Where have they been on this issue for the past twelve months? Why have they been opportunistically latching on to this issue in the last week or so? Have I missed something or were all three not intimately involved with our previous Westminster Government? The same Westminster Government that enthusiastically sold the Bahrain Government the very tools it now uses to suppress the protesters they now claim to be so concerned about.

Let's be clear. Twenty-four high-powered racing cars screaming around a racetrack in the desert does not bolster or legitimise the Bahraini regime. What does bolster the regime are self-proclaimed 'ethical' Governments who are prepared to sell oppressive regimes the means to carry out their repressive actions. By trading with any given country - particularly when it involves armaments - our Government effectively gives them our stamp of approval, legitimises them.

When Labour were in power, were Bahrain's rulers any less repressive? Did they call for the Grand Prix to be cancelled in any of the years between 2004 and 2010? If not, why not? The 2011 race was called off but that was initiated from with Formula One not the Government.

I am frankly sickened by Governments and officials who will happily trade with any number of dubious regimes but who are happy to use sport as a means to an end. If that was to punish or moderate the regime, I might have some sympathy but it is not. These empty words and empty condemnations are used only to bolster their own ethical credentials; the problem being, of course, that their previous actions reveal those credentials to be as worthless as their current empty and manipulative pronouncements. Anyone who actually believes that those three care a jot about ordinary Bahrainis should check the back of their heads for buttons.

There is an argument to be made about whether all links (including sporting ones) should be cut with regimes such as the one in Bahrain but I will not hear it made by such hypocrites.

The media should also be examining their own involvement. Although there was reasonable coverage of the problems in Bahrain last year when the whole Arab world seemed to be on fire, where have the reporters been in the last twelve months? In some senses, the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain should be thankful that the arrival of the F1 circus has catapulted them back onto the front pages and into the public consciousness.

I am no admirer of Bernie Ecclestone. Nor do I have any reason to demonise him. I am certain, however, that these three Labour Party opportunists will once again be willing to afford him any leeway he asks for should he deposit another £1 million in their coffers.

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