Damon Hill says Formula 1 cannot afford to be 'indifferent' about Bahrain situation

Formula 1 risks damage to its reputation if it does not react to the increasingly tense political situation in Bahrain ahead of the scheduled grand prix later this month

Damon Hill says Formula 1 cannot afford to be 'indifferent' about Bahrain situation

That is the view of former world champion Damon Hill, who thinks with a fresh wave of protests on the streets and a worldwide focus now on the fate of jailed activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, who has been on hunger strike for 58 days, F1's chiefs must not act like they do not care.

"I think at the moment it is hotting up, which is not a good state of affairs to be wanting to go to Bahrain, when it is actually getting more inflamed," Hill told BBC Radio 4 on Saturday.

"We have the human rights president Alkhawaja in a serious situation, with two weeks to go. It is a very difficult call and my concern is that F1 is perceived to be indifferent, and that would be really damaging for F1."

Earlier this week Hill urged a rethink about the race going ahead, because of the ongoing situation in the Gulf state - and he has reiterated his belief that it would be wrong for the event to be used for political means by Bahrain's rulers.

"I think under the right circumstances it would be OK," he said. "I don't doubt that they could hold the grand prix, but if they held the grand prix and in order to hold the grand prix they have to impose very serious security measures to prevent protestors making their point, then it would appear that the event is taking place on one side of the argument. That is the worry for the reputation of the sport; that it is actually taking political sides."

Alkhawaja's deteriorating medical condition has become a focus for activists in Bahrain, with the media reporting that the police had to use tear gas to disperse protestors in Manama on Friday night.

Mary Lawlor, director of human rights group Front Line Defenders that Al-Khawaja represented after setting up the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, believes that F1 cannot be isolated from the situation.

"If Abdulhadi Alkhawaja dies in the run up to the grand prix due to take place in Bahrain on 22 April, it will increase the instability and unrest," she explained. "The Bahraini authorities clearly want to present an image of business as usual but their seeming indifference to the plight of Abdulhadi, risks tragic consequences for Bahrain.

"Those involved in Formula 1 must consult with independent journalists, community leaders, human rights groups, to get a good sense of what is going on - to see for themselves the situation in the gulf kingdom. From observing protests last week in Bahrain, it is clear that Bahrain is not safe for Bahrainis."

Nabeel Rajab, the current president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, told BBC Radio 4 that he believed suggestions the Bahrain Grand Prix would unify the country were wide of the work.

"This is a dictator who is saying that. But that is not the people saying that," he said. "The dictator is benefiting from that, the dictator wants to tell the outside world that the whole thing is back to normal... they want to come back from isolation and say that everything is back to normal.

"But on the other hand they are killing people, detaining people, torturing people. Everything is not back to normal and F1 should not help Bahrain's leaders to [think it is] so."

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