Bahrain Grand Prix cancelled amid political turmoil

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A week after Sunni and Shi'ite youth protesters marched on the capital city of Manama, the Bahrain government informed Formula One Management that it would withdraw from hosting the Bahrain Grand Prix. The decision was made in an effort to focus on the pressing national issues facing the country. Demonstrators, who are still holding Pearl Square, had threatened to target the Media attention if the event went ahead as scheduled. The race is the opening event of the 2011 Formula One racing season.

Bahrain's Crown Prince, HRH Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, sent a statement to Formula One Management which said, "At the present time the country’s entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain. After the events of the past week, our nation’s priority is on overcoming tragedy, healing divisions and rediscovering the fabric that draws this country together; reminding the world of the very best that Bahrain is capable of as a nation once again united."

The Bahrain Grand Prix was to be held on March 13, with teams coming in within the next few weeks to prepare for the race. Formula One president and CEO Bernie Ecclestone issued a public statement saying, "It is sad that Bahrain has had to withdraw from the race, we wish the whole nation well as they begin to heal their country." Ecclestone also noted that despite reported rumors, the Bahrain International Circuit would not be charged for their cancellation of the event, citing that he considered the political unrest to be a "force majeure" and that the events that took place could not have been predicted. "What has happened in Bahrain is desperately sad but one month ago everyone was looking forward to the race," he said. Formula One Management will most likely have to absorb the costs related to the canceled race, estimated at around $40 million, unless it can be re-scheduled later in the season.

With the announcement from the Crown Prince that political issues would be addressed, exiled Shi'ite political leader Hassan Mushaima announced that he would return to the country. Mushaima, leader of the Haq Movement opposition party, was tried in absentia in 2009, accused of attempting to overthrow the government. Other Haq Movement members have also been arrested in recent years, but received royal pardons. While 23 members of the political movement are currently awaiting trial, on Tuesday the Bahrain government released a group of political detainees without comment, meeting one of the demands of the protesters.