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Teargas on democracy protesters? Bahrain Grand Prix sponsors say 'no problem'

It appears the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix scheduled for this weekend will go on, despite the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters there. Advertisers don't appear worried about any backlash.

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"You guys want a story and it's a good story and if there isn't a story you make it up like usual, Nothing changes," Mr. Ecclestone said. "The political thing is going in so many countries. These things happen. We are not here to get involved in politics. There are many more countries higher up the priority list that you should be writing about. Go to Syria and write about those things because it is more important there."

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Ecclestone can say as much as he likes that F1 isn't involved in politics, but it doesn't make it so.

The claim that "politics and sport should never mix" is often trotted out, as if sport is some pure sacrament untainted by the concerns of the profane work-a-day world. This is absurd. Major global sporting organizations like F1, FIFA, or the International Olympic Committee have confronted scandal after scandal through the decades, usually centered around the nexus of money, power and political influence they represent.

The decision to bring the F1 circus to town, or to award the World Cup to a host nation, is a political one as much as a business one. These events are enormous shop windows for tourism, lend prestige to the governments that host them, and amount to approval of the way they run their affairs. 

What is the "political thing" in Bahrain at the moment? Human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja remains in jail and on hunger strike. Human Rights Watch says hundreds of others remain in jail for their political activism. At the end of March, the group wrote, "it seems that no high-ranking officials have been investigated for their roles in rampant torture or unlawful killing."

To be sure, the regime has its supporters. Among the most prominent in the US is Ed Husain, a fellow at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Husain appears to view Bahrain's protesters as largely in league with Iran (Bahrain is a Sunni monarchy, but the majority of its citizens are Shiite), judging by a recent series of tweets from him. "If Bahrain is good enough for the US Fifth Fleet, it's good enough for F1... Back away Iran's molotov hurlers," he wrote today.

The US, which has close military ties with Manama and runs the Fifth Fleet out of the kingdom, has indeed been muted in its criticism of the country.

Though motor sport journalists have poured into the country, a number of political reporters seeking to cover the protests there this weekend have been denied visas.

The race could still be called off if security deteriorates. It was security concerns, amid the crackdown on protesters, that led to the cancellation of the race last year, and if today's protests devolve into something uglier, it's possible that security could be the reason again.

But for now, it's full steam ahead. And F1 and its sponsors have sent the message that they don't have a problem with how the government is treating its own people.

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.


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