David Brancaccio: Formula 1 is the most popular kind of car racing in the world, with half a billion TV viewers worldwide. In the Middle East, organizers of the big F-1 Grand Prix of Bahrain are trying to press ahead despite demonstrations against the Bahrain regime’s human rights record.
The BBC’s Simon Atkinson joins us from nearby Dubai. Morning, Simon.
Simon Atkinson: Good morning David.
Brancaccio: How tense is the situation on the ground given the level of protests we’ve seen?
Atkinson: Well the situation is pretty tense and it’s impacting directly on the sport of Formula 1 already. There was an incident Wednesday night I believe when some petrol bombs were thrown in clashes between police and protestors and one of those landed near the car containing members of one of the teams, a team called Force India.
And this has kind of really hit home that these incidences aren’t completely isolated from those taking part in the sport and in fact, two members of that team have decided to leave the country on the basis that they don’t feel safe. In fact, one of the drivers from that team, Nico Hulkenberg has said that, you know, we shouldn’t have been put into this position to be here. So the tension on the ground has followed through into the sport.
Brancaccio: And in fact, it’s affecting this giant business that is this Formula 1 racing.
Atkinson: It is. I mean it’s affecting them on two levels really. It’s affecting them on a reputational level because Bahrain has really been brought into the spotlight because Formula 1 has decided to go ahead with the event and it’s brought attention onto things going on in the country and they say that is an endorsement of a government which the protestors say, is discriminatory, is not pushing through reforms and is still arresting and torturing opponents. And then there’s the economic side of things.
I mean, just last year alone, Bahrain’s economy lost about $500 million by the event not going ahead. Yeah for Bahrain, there’s a real financial impact. But then for the sport as a whole, there’ve been calls for sponsors to pull out because it’s seen as inappropriate for it to be in Bahrain. I guess time will tell in how things pan out on what the long term business impacts are.
Brancaccio: The BBC’s Simon Atkinson. Thank you so much. Atkinson: It’s a pleasure, thank you very much David.