• Bahrain Grand Prix

Ecclestone willing to meet with Bahrain's opposition

ESPN Staff
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Bernie Ecclestone: "I'm happy to talk to anybody about this" © Sutton Images

Amid threats from anti-government protesters that they will target this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone has said he is willing to meet with members of opposition groups in the island kingdom.

Ecclestone made a similar offer against a backdrop of media criticism in the build up to last year's race, but the grand prix weekend went ahead without major disruption. This year groups of underground activists have again levelled threats against the sport, but Ecclestone has called for calm and is open to discussion from both sides.

"I'm happy to talk to anybody about this, as I did before," he was quoted by Reuters. "We don't want to see trouble. We don't want to see people arguing and fighting about things we don't understand, because we really don't understand... Some people feel it's our fault there are problems."

Ecclestone also tried to appeal to both sides by saying the Bahrain is stronger with Formula One than without it.

"I sympathise with both sides of the argument," he was quoted in the Times. "It should be positive. I have already said to [the protesters] that, if you are going to achieve what you are trying to achieve, which is having control of the country, you are better off having control when the country is strong and respected worldwide rather than capture something nobody wants.

"Who wants to capture Syria at the moment? It is not a big thing to have. It is a liability not an asset. It is the same with Bahrain. If they can get to grips with it, they can get more control of a country that is strong, not a country that is weak. We are extremely sympathetic to them."

Over the past year reconciliation talks have begun between the ruling elite and opposition groups in Bahrain, although many reports suggest little has changed. The British Parliament's All-Party Group for Democracy in Bahrain will say in a statement today that the situation is still too fractious for Formula One to attend.

"While Bahrain descends deeper into a political crisis, any remaining principles or values of human rights are being trampled upon by F1 as they prepare to take the sport, yet again, to a country which, at present, is a controversial and unsuitable location for any competition," the group said.

But Ecclestone insists the grand prix is not political.

"I wish they could sort things out," he added. "If there are any problems, which there are obviously - people are not making trouble if there are no problems - then they could get it sorted out. I don't think the people who are arguing about their position are bad people, and I don't think they're trying to hurt people to make their point. We've had all sorts of protesters - look at those complaining about [former British prime minister] Mrs Thatcher. This happens all the time. People use these things when there is an opportunity."