The president of the FIA, Jean Todt, has insisted that it was the right call for the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain to go ahead, despite civil unrest in parts of the country.

Todt had been criticised for not speaking publicly about the decision to go ahead with Sunday's race until just a few days ago, but on Saturday in a meeting with a select group of journalists at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, he came out forcefully in favour of the race going ahead despite the protests planned for this weekend.

"Yes, there are certain problems, yes there are some protests - because it is a democratic country and protests are allowed," he said. "It allows people who want to protest to give their voice, and it happens all over the world. There are some protests in our county where we live, and sometimes we don't feel comfortable to go - because there can be some protests.

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"If there is a protest, can there be some consequences? We know, if you go to any soccer game anywhere in the world, including Europe, there are some consequences when there is a protest ... And you know, very often, protest does mean damaging and hurting people: it is one possibility of expressing yourself," he said. "It is something that can happen, but it does not mean we have to stop sport moving along."

Of more immediate concern to Todt as FIA president is whether the image and reputation of F1 itself is being undermined by the holding of the Bahrain Grand Prix in such controversial circumstances.

"I feel F1 is very strong, I think it is a very strong brand," said Todt. "[Although] to say there has not been some controversy around what has happened in Bahrain would be wrong from my side," he conceded.

"Do you think the promoters, if they would have felt it was very bad for their country, they would have encouraged F1 to come here?" he asked. "They would not have asked the commercial rights-holder, Bernie Ecclestone, in the first place to put Bahrain on the calendar."

Todt went on to question the accuracy of the situation of Bahrain painted by the recent news coverage. "I sympathise with people who have some emotions, but we have to deal with facts.

"I am not sure that all that has been reported corresponds to the reality of what is happening in this country," stated Todt. "I respect the media, I respect what they write, but it is not what I have seen and what I was told by a lot of people to whom I have been talking."

With a recent official Bahrain News Agency poll suggesting overwhelming public support in the country for the Grand Prix to go ahead, Todt asked: "At the most it is 10 per cent of the people who are anti. Do we have to penalise 80 or 90 per cent of the population because 10 per cent are against?

"My answer is no. My answer is that there is a strong majority of people who want the race. Unfortunately there is much more media attention, again rightly or wrongly it is not for me to judge, on emphasising this minority. [But] most of the people are in favour of having their life move on and the sport move on."

In any case, once the commercial contracts for the holding of the Bahrain Grand Prix were signed the FIA's hands were tied, Todt pointed out.

"We as a governing body had no reasons not to have the Grand Prix happening in Bahrain,' said Todt. "If we had a new vote today to the world council, I am convinced there is no new evidence that would make the decision [in favour] different.

"All the recommendations are that it was absolutely no problem to be in Bahrain," said Todt of the extensive investigations that the FIA had conducted before making its final decision. "On rational facts, it was decided there was no reason to change our minds.

"I don't see one team not supportive of being in Bahrain," he added. "I was even told it would have been a mistake not to come. ... I also spoke with Peter Sauber this morning and he said he felt as comfortable here as he would at any other place in Europe."

However, the FIA's assertion that the Grand Prix was a purely sporting event with nothing to do with the turbulent regional politics swirling around Bahrain and the Middle East did seem to have been undermined by some of the local publicity being used in the country to promote the event.

Race organisers have developed an advertising campaign based around the slogan 'UniF1ed' to imply that the Grand Prix was an important part of bringing the country together, which could be construed as against FIA rules allowing the sport's presence to be exploited politically.

"It can be a lot of interpretation," responded Todt. "It is a sporting event. Then if the sporting event is helping to heal the situation it is very good for the sport ... I saw some fantastic quotes from Nelson Mandela talking about how good is the sport to cure problems around the world, and if we do that I would be honoured and proud that F1 may have contributed to that."

Todt declined to be drawn on reports that an anti-F1 protester had died on Friday night after clashes between protesters and police.

"I cannot comment on something where I do not have all the details, and I do not have all the details. So it would be completely [incorrect to do so] on my side," he said.

Instead, he finished off with an upbeat summary: "When you talk to people about the sport, they are very happy and very excited about what is happening. Again talking to people who facilitate that - the marshals - they are delighted and very happy.

"For me, it is a very good message from the sport."