11th Apr, 2013 –

Damon Hill, discussing the Bahrain Grand Prix said: “The vast majority of people in the sport would like to say we don’t want to come here to make life worse for people. We would like you to enjoy Formula One. It has lots of positive things to offer. But please don’t, on our behalf, round people up and brutalize them.”

We in Bahrain are sorry that Mr. Hill has been given the impression that the Grand Prix will “make life worse for people”. This is wrong. For most of us the Formula One is one of the highlights of our year.

There are a small number of militants trying to stir up trouble with the unrealistic hope of getting the event cancelled. If they ever succeeded, this would be a disaster for Bahrain, given how much this event means to our country.

In order to achieve their ends, these militants have made threats against organizers and attendees; they have staged riots; they have covered parts of Bahrain in anti-F1 graffiti; and they are also spreading lies about what is happening.

Unfortunately, some of these militants have the ear of groups like Human Rights Watch, so that their dirty propaganda gets spread across the international media and makes Bahrain look bad. As an illustration of how unfair their allegations are, a senior Western diplomat described the last Human Rights Watch report as “unhelpful, condescending and patronizing”. Don’t believe everything you read in the media, these militants have a very effective and well-funded media operation; and the Bahraini Government’s media responses tend to be clumsy, incompetent and usually too late!

Even amongst those with little sympathy for Bahrain’s Government, there is widespread recognition for how important the Grand Prix is for Bahrain. Such Bahrainis are amongst the hundreds employed for the Grand Prix, or whose businesses ride the crest of the economic wave generated by thousands of visitors and millions of dollars of revenue. If the F1 got permanently cancelled, our tiny island will disappear from the global sporting map.

Mr. Hill; we request that when you arrive in Bahrain this year, you and your sporting colleagues spend some time speaking to ordinary Bahrainis – not wealthy sporting officials, royal family members or those attending VIP parties, but ordinary hard-working Bahrainis from the different segments of our society.

We promise you that the overwhelming message that comes across is: Don’t let a handful of extremists spoil things for everyone; please keep coming and supporting Bahrain and making this annual event spectacular. Not because Bernie Ecclestone has told you to, or because of your racing contractual obligations – but because this is a great event for Bahrain and everybody involved.

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