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Human Rights Lose Out at Bahrain Grand Prix

Leon Kaye | Thursday April 26th, 2012 | 3 Comments
Bahrain, Middle East, Arab Spring, Formula One, Grand Prix, human rights, al Khalifa family, Leon Kaye, Business and human rights resource center

The race is this way. Unless you're a journalist or a protester (Leon Kaye)

If you are a Formula One Fan, you are well aware that Sebastian Vettel won last weekend’s Grand Prix in Manama, Bahrain. But other than Vettel, there were no winners in this small island country that has been in turmoil since last year. The event went off without a hitch, but Bahrain’s ruling family is deluded if they think the race will unite the people. The biggest loser, in fact, was human rights.

Last year’s Grand Prix was canceled as Bahrain was smack in the middle of the Arab Spring that rocked the Middle East. But despite the country’s political instability, the race proceeded as planned. For the majority of Bahrainis who despise the royal family’s stranglehold on the country, life has been one of constant worry. Police repeatedly harass civilians and tear gas is often shot into neighborhoods with no warning. The ruling al-Khalifa family refuses to negotiate with dissidents who see their nation as one that rife with corruption and unfairness, and has hired former police chiefs from the U.S. and United Kingdom in a move to keep their hold on power at any cost and by any strategy.

But despite the growing outcry against human rights violations, many companies associated with the event overlooked what is occurring in Bahrain. In fact, only 29 percent of companies responded to a human rights questionnaire sent by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center. Usually the response rate is closer to 75 percent.

The human rights advocacy group was overall dismayed over the lack of responses. Sponsors and partners including Dell, GE, Proctor & Gamble, Virgin, and Visa, in addition to several Formula One teams, simply ignored the survey. Other companies like DHL, Microsoft and Intel responded that they had commitments to sponsor the event or a team and were open to further questions or reiterated their human rights policy.

The event, at a superficial level, was a success. Large protests and extensive security greeted fans and Formula One Teams alike, although occasional violence erupted with one team and a pavilion for fans was a target for protestors. But journalists, including some from the Associated Press and even Al-Jazeera, were denied entry to cover the event. Reporters and camera crew allowed in the country were limited in where they could go, and also had to place bright orange stickers on their cameras to ensure that they did not dare to film anything other the race. And while western public relations firms are paid generous sums to paint a prettier picture of Bahrain, the truth is that the ruling family and their minions harassed everyone from those who express opinions on Twitter to security forces’ use of stun grenades against protesters.

For companies that were involved with the Bahrain Grand Prix, the message sent was that human rights do not matter when compared to a prestigious sporting event. The common excuse given that “sports and politics don’t mix” is a failed response given that the regime in Bahrain counted on the Grand Prix to show a whitewashed version of Bahrain to the world. At a time when human rights is becoming a focal point by which companies prove that they are embracing a more ethical and socially responsible agenda, the collaboration with a vengeful regime sends a terrible signal. Bahrainis deserve better. They deserve to be part of their government, not fearful of it.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy Leon Kaye.

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  • Expat in Bahrain

    Like the rest of the media this article does not reflect Bahrain’s true situation. Get your facts right. The media were banned for a reason and quite frankly was the best thing they did.

    • Anderson

      What was the reason?  Can you elaborate?

  • http://twitter.com/LeonKaye Leon Kaye

    Just another PR lackey sent out by Bahrain, or someone who lives on a compound and is completely clueless about the situation. Al Jazeera has been documenting the tragedy there. Why would anyone advocate that the media be banned from anywhere? Worse than pathetic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xaTKDMYOBOU

    And Expat, I was there, so get your facts straight.