Bahrain gives assurance over Formula One fears

Formula One likely to go ahead this year as government pledges to protect human rights following allegations from advocacy groups.

SAKIR, BAHRAIN - MARCH 14:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari drives ahead of team mate Felipe Massa of Brazil and Ferrari during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on March 14, 2010 in Sakir, Bahrain.  (Photo by Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***  GYI0059906746.jpg
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Organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix have moved to quell rising fears regarding the situation in the Kingdom after human rights groups called for Formula One teams to boycott the race planned for April 22.

Last year's grand prix was cancelled following unrest in the Gulf state, but the race has returned to the calendar this year following assurances from the Crown Prince that the issues are being dealt with.

Nabeel Rajab, the vice-president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said last weekend that a campaign will be held to boycott the race, adding "Formula One, if they come, are helping the government to say [the situation is normal].

"We would prefer it if they didn't take part. I am sure the drivers and teams respect human rights."

However, a spokesperson for the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) on Monday said the government, which had an independent report carried out last year, has moved to ensure no further human rights violations will take place.

"Last year, the King of Bahrain commissioned an independent report into alleged human rights abuses, the findings of which were published in November," the spokesman said. "The report found evidence of human rights violations and made certain general and specific recommendations.

"The government has fully acknowledged the findings of the report and is acting swiftly and convincingly on the recommendations."

Bernie Ecclestone, the commercial rights holder of Formula One, said at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November that he saw no reason not to return to Bahrain and did not believe the race would become a target for protesters.

"It's on the calendar," Ecclestone said. "We'll be there, unless something terrible happens to stop us."

Last year's race was postponed initially, before F1 teams and drivers forced the event to be cancelled, but the BIC spokesperson yesterday stressed the importance of the Bahrain Grand Prix to the country.

"[It] forms a fundamental part of the local economy," he said. "It is supported by an overwhelming majority of people from all sections of society in Bahrain and represents a symbol of national unity.

"The independent report was a milestone for Bahrain and we will now work tirelessly to ensure that the race is a great success," he added.

As well as the future of Bahrain's race being cast in doubt, there are also concerns surrounding the calendar's two races in Spain.

The government of Valencia, host of the European Grand Prix, have said they want to renegotiate its contract with Ecclestone, while Catalunya, host of the Spanish Grand Prix, may need to reconsider hosting its annual race.

"It is not clear to us that we can afford [F1 or MotoGP] in the current situation," Andreu Mas-Colell, Catalunya's minister for economy, told local radio.