Pcture the scene. Bernie Ecclestone walks into a meeting with Kim-Jong Un. The world’s media have been kept away.
“Ah, Mr Ecclestone,” begins the young dictator. “We would like to hold a grand prix in our glorious nation.”
“But what about the millions of people forced to do hard labour in your goulags?” asks the leader of Formula One.
“Don’t worry,” says Mr Kim, “I won’t let them anywhere near your circuit.”
“Ah well,” says Bernie, “that’s OK then!”
A little far fetched perhaps. I’m sure that no amount of cash would convice Bernie Ecclestone to hold a grand prix in a country that wouldn’t allow western television cameras. And what would be the point of advertising Vodafone and Hugo Boss to the North Koreans?
But perhaps its not beyond the realms of possibility. During the heights of the Arab Spring, the Bahrain Grand Prix was cancelled. Scenes of violence and bloodshead in the island state’s capital were too much for the watching world and the bosses of Formula One to bare. But it wasn’t the actions of a military police, or the tales of human rights violations that worried the F1 elite. No, it was concern for the safety of their teams and spectators.
Since then though, things haven’t really improved in Bahrain. The people are still oppressed, beaten and killed. But still the protests continue. Human rights organisations, like last year, called the powers that be at F1 to cancell the grand prix in protest of the violations of human rights that continue to be perpetrated by the Bahrain government.
But low and behold Bernie cropped up again. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Its all alright, it’s all been sorted.” “Sorted?” we asked. Did the great man swoop in, do what the Arab league, the UN and Amnesty International all failed to do and sort it all out?
No. He didn’t.
Security was stepped up and the crown prince declared that the teams, the organisers, and the spectators would all be safe from any violence. Thus it seemed Bernie had once again missed what it was that everyone was actually concerened about.
Or had he?
Well perhaps not. When talking to CNN Bernie Ecclestone said that sport has no place in politics, and that when a sport visits a country, that the laws of that country are respected. On the face of it this makes a fine sentiment. Sport shouldn’t really transcend into politics, and can even help to draw people and countries together. Were it not for some bloodthirsty generals football could well have stopped the First World War dead in its tracks on that famous Christmas morning. It would be wrong to boycott the Olympics because they’re held in a communist country, or one that has state controlled media. Much better to visit the country and make your objections heard. But sometimes there is a line to be drawn.
In 1970 the ICC banned South Africa from international test cricket because of the apartheid. UEFA kicked Yugoslavia out of Euro ’92 after the country imploded and started carrying out the fourth worst genocide of the 20th century. And perhaps the bloody crackdowns carried out by the Bahrain government, as shown recently by Channel 4’s smuggled footage, are one of those incidents where sport should indeed have become involved in politics.