Bahrain's Race To The Bottom

By Brian P. Dunleavy
Apr. 23, 2012

Americans like their auto racing with lots of left turns and fiery wrecks.

They call it NASCAR, and trust me despite its down-home, southern roots it has truly become a national phenomenon.

For the rest of the world, however, racing begins and ends with Formula One, the high-speed circuit that stages its events on city streets from Rio to Monte Carlo (there’s even one in Austin!). Its races account for some of the most-watched sporting events in the world, and its drivers are among the highest-paid athletes around.

Which makes the decision by the FAI—the sport’s governing body—to run the “Gulf Air” Bahrain Grand Prix Sunday, as planned, all the more upsetting.

After all, none of the people involved in Formula One need the money.

The people of Bahrain, however, need a break. For those of you who haven’t been following the story—which, frankly, is most of you—there is an ongoing uprising in the small, island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Bahrainis have taken to the streets, putting their lives on the line to overthrow a corrupt, cruel dictatorship.

Sound familiar? It should. In places like Egypt, Libya and Syria, the media has dubbed this type of thing “the Arab Spring.” But in Bahrain, the struggles of the masses have received little attention—from world governments likely wary of antagonizing the nearby Saudis (allies of the current regime) and causing a shutdown of the region’s oil spigots; from the U.S., which uses the island as a naval base; and from the mainstream media, which generally only pays attention to things governments pay attention to.

Now add Formula One to the list.

The people behind the uprising in Bahrain practically begged the racing circuit to cancel the race. If the race went ahead as planned, they argued, it would, in effect, prop up the country’s current regime in the eyes of the world. The race was run and won, for the record, by Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel. The media covered it, of course, but largely ignored the plight of the Bahraini people.

As usual. This has been going on for more than a year now.

You’ll notice that the race winner is sponsored by a corporation—Red Bull, as in the drink manufacturer. In fact, all of Formula One’s drivers, and races, run under corporate sponsorship.

You see there’s big-time money in auto racing.

In the struggles of human beings desperate for freedom and democracy? Not so much.


About the author: Brian P. Dunleavy is a writer who lives in New York.



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