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Sanctions for Syria. But in Bahrain, it's bring on the Grand Prix!

Pay no attention to the human rights violations behind the curtain, Mr. Ecclestone.

By Staff writer / June 8, 2011



(Updated: It turns out, that F1 reversed course again. Apparently, the vote last week to reinstate the Bahrain race violated FIA rules. Mr. Ecclestone told the BBC today there will be no race in Bahrain this year.)

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Bahrain's Sunni monarch may have called in mercenaries and Saudi troops to stamp out calls for democracy in his wealthy kingdom, tortured activists demanding more political freedom, and systematically discriminated against members of the country's Shiite majority.

But the mandarins of auto racing have a message for King Hamad al-Khalifa and his entourage: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"

Syria and Libya may be facing growing international isolation for their own domestic crackdowns, but Bahrain, a close American ally that hosts the US Fifth Fleet and has the full backing of Saudi Arabia, is back in business.

Formula 1, Bernie Ecclestone's global money machine (it turned a $140 million profit last year), was forced to postpone its scheduled race this spring in Bahrain because of the country's democracy protests and the government's violent crackdown. But F1 has put Bahrain back on the calendar for December, and teams like Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull, their cars festooned with advertising for global companies like Vodafone, Total, and Pirelli, are expected to race.

Why the change of heart? A recommendation from a commissioner of FIA, global motor sports' governing body, whose view of recent events in Bahrain and the human rights situation there is starkly at odds with generally accepted reality. (Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy posted the FIA report and wrote about it yesterday).

FIA commissioner Carlos Gracia helpfully starts his report on his May 30 and 31 visit to Bahrain by recounting his meeting with the minister of tourism where he learned that "from a Cultural (sic) point of view, nothing has changed." He highlights a planned summer tourism promotion dubbed the "Victory of Joy."

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