The Bahrain Grand Prix has returned to this year’s Formula One calendar after a meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Bahrain today.
Zayed R Alzayani, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit, confirmed the news, announcing the decision followed a visit to the country this week by an FIA delegation to assess the situation.
Alzayani said: “This is welcome news for all of Bahrain. As a country we have faced a difficult time, but stability has returned, with businesses operating close to normal, the State of National Safety lifted and countries removing travel restrictions.”
The Bahrain Grand Prix was initially due to be the opening race of the season in March, but was cancelled in February amid political unrest in the country.
No date has been officially announced, although it is understood via tweets from Fawaz Al-Khalifa, the President of the Information Affairs Authority, the race will take place on October 30.
That date had been reserved for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, and it remains to be seen whether a new date has been found for that race, or it will now be held over until next year.
The decision will spark outrage amongst human rights groups, who in recent weeks have voiced their opposition to the race going ahead in light of the oppression suffered by thousands of Bahrainis.
Pro-democracy demonstrations by the majority Shi’ite populace against the ruling minority Sunni government forced the cancellation of the race that was due to be the season-opener in mid-March.
Tanks and troops from neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the UAE were called upon to help restore order, resulting in the deaths of 30 protesters and the detention of hundreds more, sparking a period of martial law that expired on Wednesday.
Despite the apparent ongoing unrest, Alzayani added: “Collectively, we are in the process of addressing issues of national and international concern, and learning lessons from the recent past.
“By the time the grand prix arrives we will be able to remind the world about Bahrain at its best.
“The Bahrain Grand Prix has always been a source of national pride and it is an event than transcends politics.
“Not only does it receive strong support from the government, but from all major parties in Bahrain, including our largest opposition group, Al Wefaq, who yesterday endorsed the BIC and motor-racing in Bahrain.
“Importantly, it will also offer a significant boost to the economy.
“The grand prix attracts 100,000 visitors, supports 3,000 jobs and generates around 500 million dollars (US) of economic benefit.
“Its positive effect will be felt throughout the country.
“On behalf of Bahrain, I would like to thank Bernie Ecclestone (F1 commercial rights holder), Jean Todt (FIA president), the FIA and the rest of the motor sport community for the support and understanding they have extended to us this year.”
Unsurprisingly, one international organisation that yesterday launched an online petition against the race being staged, has today reacted with dismay.
Avaaz, whose campaign was backed by former world champion Damon Hill, had over 320,000 ’signatories’ in support of their action.
Avaaz has now called on the teams to make a stand for the people of Bahrain.
Alex Wilks, the Avaaz campaign director, said: “Formula One’s decision is a kick in the teeth for the Bahraini people.
“The race will happen in a country where government troops continue to shoot and arrest peaceful protesters.
“Money has trumped human rights and good judgement, so now F1, plus Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and every other team will be directly linked with a bloody crackdown that’s ruined the lives of hundreds of innocent people.”
Speaking on behalf of the Bahraini Centre for Human Rights, Maryam al Khawaja added: “Al Wefaq do not represent the Shia groups.
“There will be increased repression of human rights if the grand prix is held.
“To go ahead pretending it’s business as usual is very bad when people continue to be detained and tortured.
“If the decision goes through we will return to Pearl Square and the groups have called for a Day of Rage.”