Formula One: Bahrain Grand Prix to be held despite opposition


The Bahrain International Circuit in Sakir, where the 2012 race is to be held. Pictured: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren Mercedes racing in the 2010 Grand Prix event.


Mark Thompson

Formula One (FIA) issued a statement today confirming that Bahrain's Grand Prix will be held as planned, despite calls from the rights community to cancel the race for the second year in a row. 

The news was also welcomed in a surprise turnaround today by former world champion Damon Hill, who had earlier supported canceling the April 22 event, said Reuters.

"Human rights organisations have had their cases heard," the 1996 winner said. "No one is under any illusions about the situation. But the less vocal majority of Bahrainis also have a right to get on with their lives and we also have a responsibility to our F1 fans in the region," he said, adding that it should be seen as a "symbol" of a call for unity, according to Reuters

The decision comes a week after the country's foremost human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, had to be hospitalized after 58 days on hunger strike in protest of a lifetime sentence that he says is politically motivated.

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Bahrain has been in turmoil for the past year, due to mainly Shiite-led protests that broke out against the ruling Sunni authorities in solidarity with anti-government uprisings taking place throughout the Arab world.

The small Gulf kingdom lost its opportunity to host the race last year due to a brutal government-led crackdown on protests, said Reuters.

With large demonstrations still a frequent occurrence in the island kingdom, opposition forces hoped a second cancelation would highlight Bahrain's poor rights record -- one the government's own commission found has included state-sanctioned torture and widespread arrests since unrest broke out, according to The Daily Beast.

But FIA today said it is "satisfied that all the proper security measures are in place" for the event, saying its decision is based off a November fact-finding mission there as well as regular security briefings. 

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The race is being held under the banner “Unified: One Nation in Celebration," a motto The New York Times recently described as an unsuccessful attempt to project "an image of calm" in a nation clearly in the thrust of a mass uprising. 

The race will be held on April 22 at the Sakhir circuit, according to AP