Whilst the Formula 1 season heads into round four, as with 2012, the main headlines focus not on what is happening on the track, but instead an attempt to divert the situation to the events that are occurring off the track. The Bahrain Grand Prix is again a talking point as the media wonders whether Formula 1 should be in the country racing, or not. For the purposes of this blog, I’m not going to answer that question, mainly because I do not know that answer. I am not in Bahrain, nor do I have on me the facts or figures that led those in a position of power and Formula One Management (FOM) to choose to race at the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend. The purpose of this blog is mainly to address a few gripes of mine, but also to try and understand the reasons behind it.
The main gripe concerns journalists appearing to jump onto the Formula 1 bandwagon, only to criticise the sport. On Twitter last night, the example I gave was senior BBC Sport journalist Dan Roan, who does not follow the Formula 1 circus. The problem I have is that journalists such as Roan do not appear to praise Formula 1 and only seem to criticise where necessary. For example, Roan was not present at last month’s Chinese Grand Prix, nor did he interview Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber following the team orders’ controversy. As far as the current season is concerned, that is definitely the biggest story so far with many possible ramifications, yet journalists such as Roan were not present to follow that story. One Formula 1 team member told me last night “it feels safer here than [in] London”. So why do journalists such as Roan go to Bahrain?
The answer is fairly complex. Roan, as a BBC Sport journalist would go to Bahrain with the written intention of reporting on the Grand Prix. Once in Bahrain, however, he and his team are free to do what they like and report on whatever they see, regardless of where it may be within the country. Who wins or who loses this Sunday is not an issue for him or for his particular story – the only purpose of the ‘Sports journalist’ tag in this context is to get him into Bahrain. Had BBC sent out a correspond with the ‘Middle East journalist’ tag to report on the issues in Bahrain at any other time of the year, they would have been arrested on the spot. Last year, Channel 4 News’ Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller was arrested and deported. Today, ITN’s news team and a France 24 correspondent were arrested and released earlier today. It is a catch 22 situation. I may not like that, because it brings a lot of bad publicity towards Formula 1, but it is the only way journalists can get into the country to report on the countries issues.
A secondary issue I don’t like is how Formula 1 is used for political purposes. Formula 1 is primarily a sport and entertainment spectacle. It should not used as a political tool for or against the regime in charge. I do not believe that this is an issue this year, but it definitely was last year with the “UniF1ed: One Nation in Celebration” poster. To bring that poster to perspective, it would be the equivalent of the British Grand Prix supporting the current government. The situations of course are extremely different in nature, but the promotional tool used would be identical. So then you may ask, why is Formula 1 racing in Bahrain? If it brings bad public press, then surely Formula 1 should just stop racing there. If journalists are going to enter Bahrain at the same time as Formula 1 every year, then what benefit does Formula 1 bring to the country? If you are to argue that their human rights record means that they should stop racing there, then couldn’t the same be said for Brazil or China or multiple other countries? I don’t know.
The sad thing is that after this weekend the journalists will soon move back out of Bahrain and the people of Bahrain will be left without an international voice for another year. It all seems to be a rather sad state of affairs that Formula 1 has – again – become embroiled in.