The leader of Britain’s Labour Party is calling for the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix Formula 1 auto race in light of human rights violations perpetrated by the Arab kingdom’s rulers and military against anti-government protesters.
During a speech delivered in Wales, Ed Miliband said: ''Given the violence we have seen in Bahrain and given the human rights abuses, I don't believe the Grand Prix should go ahead. I hope that the [UK] Government will make its view clear and say the same.''
Miliband joins a growing chorus of politicians and human rights activists calling for Britain to boycott the race or to cancel it entirely.
Another prominent Labour lawmaker, Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, has also called for the Bahrain Grand Prix to be cancelled, citing that the Gulf state will likely witness violent protests, placing British F1 drivers like Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton in grave danger.
It shouldn't go ahead, I don't think British drivers should go, I think the Formula One should not go ahead in Bahrain,” Cooper told BBC.
You have got demonstrations by democratic protesters who have been violently suppressed and although it should be a matter for the sport to decide rather than for the Government, I do think [UK] government ministers can express an opinion. That opinion should be it should not go ahead, it would sent the wrong signal, it should not happen.
Similarly, George Galloway, the controversial British MP who recently won a surprise election in Bradford as a member of Respect Party said the Bahrain race is stained by the blood of the people who are asking for a vote. There is blood on the tracks and anyone who drives over then will never be forgiven.
The 2011 race in Bahrain was cancelled due to concerns about unrest in the small kingdom and the government’s brutal crackdown.
However, while Downing Street said it is ”concerned” about the violence in Bahrain, it asserted that it cannot dictate to foreign governments what sporting events they can and cannot hold.
Amnesty International noted in a recent report that the Bahraini authorities continue to abuse protesters -- including the use of torture --- despite promises by the ruling family to enact democratic reforms.
The main race is scheduled to be held on Sunday and is expected to attract thousands of well-heeled racing fans from around the world, especially Saudi Arabia.
The UK Foreign Office (FCO) has already advised British motor racing fans not to travel to Bahrain for the racing extravaganza.
Meanwhile, security in Bahrain has been upgraded as racers begin their practice runs, only 25 miles from the capital Manama, which has witnessed repeated disturbances by protesters and counter-attacks by security forces.
Some members of India’s F1 racing team, Force India, have already returned home after a petrol bomb attack on Wednesday, citing safety fears.
However, on Friday afternoon, the crown prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa said the race will go ahead in a news conference. Sitting next to the prince, the head of Formula 1, Bernie Ecclestone added: If people have got a complaint about something else, it's nothing to do with F1.
Also, the chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit, Zayed al-Zayani told the BBC: We are a sporting event, we are a social event, we have nothing to do with the political scene, and I think that's better left to sort out between the politicians and government.”
Bahrain’s population is dominated by a Shia Muslim majority, although they are ruled by a Sunni Muslim elite. The Shias have long called for an end to the discrimination against their people, while some have called for the dissolution of the Sunni monarchy.
With help from neighboring Sunni power, Saudi Arabia, the Bahraini government has brutally squelched protests, although demonstrations have continued off and on for the past year.
The Daily Telegraph of Britain also reported that opposition activists on Bahrain plan to use the Grand Prix as a soapbox for their grievances, as well as holding protests against the race itself.
“A lot of the protesters are holding up placards saying 'Formula One driving over Bahraini blood',” a Telegraph correspondent said.
“People gather in the early evening in the alleyways of the villages where they listen to speeches from a mosque tower then they head off. As soon as they reach one of the main roads, there are usually large groups of riot police who then promptly fire off tear gas.”
He added: “There is not much of a sense of a large fan entourage here. The big fear is that someone makes it onto the track during Sunday's race but a more likely outcome may be for a protester to unfurl a banner they had smuggled into the venue in the hope that it will be seen by the estimated 600 million race watchers worldwide.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.