Sakhir: Bahrain's Crown Prince says the country's Formula One race should go ahead on Sunday, insisting it serves as a force of good for the divided nation.
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa said on Friday that Bahrain has "real issues" but that calling off the Bahrain Grand Prix would only "empower extremists," and the event benefits the country economically and socially.
"I genuinely believe this race is a force for good and unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities under the roof of Formula One," the Crown Prince said on a visit to the Bahrain International Circuit.
Bahrain\'s Crown Prince says the country\'s F1 race serves as a force of good for the divided nation.
"For those of us trying to navigate a way out of this political problem, having the race allows us to build bridges across communities, gets people working together and allows us to celebrate our nation as an idea that is positive, not one that is divisive," he said. "I actually think having the race has prevented extremists from doing what they think they need to do to get the world's attention."
Last year's race was cancelled due to anti-government protests and this year's race has been overshadowed by days of violent clashes between riot police and demonstrators, who contend the race should not be held until the government ends its rights abuses and enacts concrete reforms that benefit the Shiite majority.
The clashes have yet to reach the circuit but several teams, including Force India, have encountered masked, firebomb-throwing youths on their way back to their hotel. Two Force India employees left Bahrain after the incident, and on Friday the team skipped the second practice over safety concerns. Protests involving thousands of people began after practice.
The Crown Prince admits there are legitimate concerns over the violence but insisted none of it was directed at F1 teams. Prince Salman did not respond directly to questions about whether he could guarantee the safety of teams, however, saying instead that he was able to guarantee that the protests were not directed against Formula One.
Standing alongside Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone at the Sakhir circuit, the Crown Prince made it clear to the assembled TV crews that calls from home and abroad for the race to be scrapped would fall on deaf ears.
"It goes to show that here are people who are out to cause chaos," he said. "There is a very big difference between protesting for a political right and rioting. The attack that happened around Force India was aimed at the police, was unprovoked and was quite dangerous. But at no time was anybody from F1 in danger."
"I think this race should continue because it is indeed a very big event for this country, it is important economically, socially. Political parties from across the whole spectrum, both conservative and opposition, have welcomed the race," he said.
Pro-democracy activists have said they plan to hold a series of 'days of rage' to coincide with the Grand Prix.
Ecclestone played down the concerns in typical fashion, telling reporters earlier that Force India may have been targeted for a reason that had nothing to do with the race, suggesting that the media were enjoying the situation.
"It's a lot of nonsense. You guys love it. What we really need is an earthquake or something like that now so you can write about that," declared the 81-year-old billionaire.
He could not call off the race even if he wanted to, he added, because "it's nothing to do with us, the race. We have an agreement to be here, and we're here. The national sporting authority in this country can call the race off."
Almost lost from view among a crush of photographers and reporters, Ecclestone said the decision to go ahead had "given the protesters an incredible platform for all you guys to talk to them."