Bahrain’s Grand Prix should be stopped….
Sport and politics are a bad mix. In fact, they are only marginally a less toxic a mix than politics and popular culture. However, in the case of sport the link is slightly less tenuous. Sport does play a clear role in politics and in political life and if you don’t believe me ask the Crown Prince of Bahrain who is pretty desperate for this race to go ahead. It is not surprising that the Crown Prince says to cancel the Grand Prix would “empower extremists” but also be a “force for good”. In other words, if it was cancelled it would make the government of Bahrain more unstable but he hopes if it goes ahead it will solidify its position. Meanwhile, Bernie Ecclestone who has been walking side-by-side with the Crown Prince clearly, if his comments on the BBC’s Radio 5 Live are anything to go by, can’t tell the difference between people who are living under a dictatorial regime and fighting for their right to even vote and the rather more humdrum differences between the supporters of the Conservative and Labour parties.
What we really see walking side-by-side are the naked self-interests of a tinpot dictatorship and the interests the big business that is the Formula 1 circus. I would imagine Ecclestone is thinking of this salient fact about last years Bahrain Grand Prix:
The 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix generated broadcast exposure worth $90.4m for the 103 brands with coverage at the race. This was well above the 2010 race average of $78.0m worth of exposure, representing 6.1% of the $1.5bn value of F1’s total brand exposure.
As is typical in a society which is commodified, the people currently getting roundly tear-gassed (and probably worse) for protesting are pretty much at the bottom of the list when it comes to the issues under consideration. Ecclestone indeed had the sheer cheek to belittle them saying they had been allowed to “have their say”. This debate is intensely political because it is, at core, a debate about cultural values. Does it not matter, for example, that people are being brutally repressed as long as you have the self-gratification of being able to watch your favourite sport? If you think the answer is yes then, by implication, although you may not share share his shamelessly crass attitude, you at some stage line up with Bernie Ecclestone in his view that what is happening outside the sporting bubble is a secondary concern. If, however, you think the answer is no, then you are arguing for a counter-culture, in which these things have at least equal, if not primary, importance when it comes to determining if the event should go ahead. On this score, I am glad Ed Miliband has decided to take the correct stand and call for the race to be called-off. Now, if only he could discover such bravery when it comes to other policy areas, like the economy, then we might be looking at a very different Labour Party and one that offered a real alternative…..