UK Politics

Decision to stage Bahrain Grand Prix 'shameful' say MPs

The Bahrain International Circuit
Image caption Bahrain has staged a Grand Prix since 2004

MPs have criticised the decision to hold the Bahrain Grand Prix in October after the violent crackdown on political protests earlier this year.

F1's governing body axed the race, due to have been held in March, but said recently that it would be reinstated.

Ex-Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the decision was "shameful".

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague argued it was up to F1 to decide what to do, but acknowledged there was "widespread opposition" to the move.

The Bahraini authorities were widely condemned in February for their violent suppression of demonstrations across the country, which left scores of people dead.

The government declared a three-month state of emergency, arrested prominent opposition figures and called in Saudi troops to keep order.

'No favours'

But after cancelling the Bahrain race in response, the 26-member FIA unanimously backed the move to reschedule it on Friday.

The organisation said its reports suggested the situation in the Gulf state had "stabilised" and that opposition groups had urged the event to take place.

However, MPs used a debate on the political situation in the Middle East and North Africa to criticise the FIA's decision.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dems' former foreign affairs spokesman, said the decision was "simply shameful".

"It does the sport of motor racing no favours whatsoever," he said, urging the Bahraini authorities to release doctors and nurses who were arrested for assisting protesters wounded during the unrest.

Labour MP Richard Burden said there was "widespread opposition" among F1 teams and drivers - several of which are based in the UK - to the race being staged.

Earlier on Tuesday, the organisation which represents F1 teams called on the FIA to reverse their decision.

Fota wants the inaugural Indian Grand Prix moved back to October, with a possible race in Bahrain in December.

Mr Burden said: "We should be clearer in asking the FIA to think again.

"Their decision to reinstate the Bahrain Grand Prix is wrong ethically, it's wrong on safety grounds, it's bad for the long-term reputation of Formula One."

Real dialogue

Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander pressed ministers over what discussions the UK government had had with the FIA about the decision to hold the race.

He urged Mr Hague to confirm that "now is not the time to be deciding on this event, especially given the need for restraint, reform and reconciliation to be the focus in Bahrain in the months ahead".

In response, Mr Hague said it was up to the F1 authorities to decide whether to hold the race.

But he said: "Formula One has not done itself any good by what has been announced. The important thing is to encourage all sides to get back into a real dialogue."

He added: "If such an event is to take place at all then it should be a focus for improvements in Bahrain and be an incentive for all in Bahrain to work together on a national dialogue."

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