The chances of the beleaguered Bahrain Grand Prix being rescheduled on the F1 2011 World Championship calendar have been dealt another blow, with anti-government activists in the desert kingdom calling upon the sport's commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone not to give the race a new slot until 'basic human rights and freedoms are restored and the repression is over'.
Originally due to stage the season's curtain-raising event on 13 March, the 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir was postponed in the wake of civil unrest in the tiny island-state as protesters launched a series of anti-government riots. Whilst hope was briefly restored as the troubles fleetingly abated, violence has since flared up again as the government has launched an increasingly earnest crackdown on dissidents.
Thirty people have died since the turmoil began on 14 February, whilst three players from the Bahraini national football team have joined the likes of journalists, bloggers, doctors, lawyers and activists in finding themselves detained by the government, as six clubs have pulled out of domestic leagues following 'pressure from Shiite political groups' and in a stand against the deaths of demonstrators.
According to the Bahrain Football Association, more than 150 players, coaches and referees have been suspended over the last three weeks for alleged involvement in the protests and refusal to play – with Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, vice-president of the Bahrain FA, telling The Associated Press
that 'there is a fine and punishment of course,' hinting at potential relegation for deliberate non-participation.
“They could not work normally when protesters are killed in their villages,” asserted Mohammed Al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. “The authorities want to tell them that you are supporting the protests and this is the punishment. It's not fair. Just because you are a sportsman doesn't mean it's wrong to be political. Everyone in the world has ideas about something. Everyone has the right to get involved.”
There is now a mere matter of days until the 1 May deadline for Bahrain Grand Prix organisers to inform the FIA of whether or not the nation will be able to host the race later on in the campaign, but Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has conceded that the rulers are still dealing with 'a number of significant issues'.
Moreover, pro-democracy group Youth of Feb. 14 Revolution has set up a Facebook
group and petitioned Ecclestone to keep F1 away from Bahrain until 'basic human rights are restored and the repression is over', reasoning in an open letter to the Formula One Management chief executive that it remains 'a country under siege and martial law, surrounded by tanks and military forces'.