• Bahrain rescheduling

Accusations timed to embarrass Bahrain organisers

ESPNF1 Staff
May 25, 2011 « Pole position is irrelevant claim drivers | »
A deserted Bahrain track in February ... and it may remain that way © Getty Images

Organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix must boost their staff numbers if the race is to be rescheduled in 2011.

A report in the Financial Times claims that as the Bahrain royal family cracked down on protesters recently, about a quarter of the Bahrain International Circuit's staff were arrested, suspended or sacked.

The potentially damaging claim was revealed by one of the detained staff who, according to the report, "declined to be named for fear of retribution". The source said two senior staff are among those who were detained.

"They [police] were all slapping and kicking me as they led me down the corridor," he said. "He put my head between his legs, flipped me on to the floor, and then the beatings really began."

The Sakhir circuit declined to comment, but a government source said the staff were removed for applauding the cancellation of the race. "Allegations are exaggerated or unfounded to gain international sympathy," claimed government spokesman Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa.

The news comes a day after reports emerged claiming foreign journalists have been targeted. The FT said Mazen Mahdi, a photojournalist with a German press agency, and Nazeeha Saeed, a reporter for France24 and Radio Monte Carlo, were detained for hours and questioned about their reporting. Both said they were abused during their detention before being released. "They blindfolded, cuffed, and then beat me," Mahdi told the newspaper. "They were claiming I 'published lies' that harmed the country's image."

Earlier this month a Reuters correspondent was expelled after filing a report claiming there was a split among the Bahrain royal family as to the handling of the unrest.

Last week President Obama, while backing the right of the authorities to maintain the rule of law, warned "mass arrests and brute force … would not make legitimate calls for reform go away … you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail".

The timing of the reports will embarrass the organisers of the race. They have been working hard to try to reassure those at the top of Formula One that normality has returned to the kingdom.

The deadline for the rescheduling of the 2011 race is June 3 with reports suggesting if it is rearranged it will take place on October 30, with the inaugural Indian switched to December 4.