This weekend sees Formula One return to Bahrain after the 2011 race was cancelled following political protests. The media has been full of speculation as to whether the race will, or in fact should, go ahead. One side of the discussion has gone largely unexplored – the Bahraini authorities dare not fail in hosting the Grand Prix.
The Bahraini government has been accused of using the Grand Prix to show that all is well in the kingdom. That’s hardly surprising. Large-scale sporting events are always a show of strength and stability for the local authorities. In fact, the success of the Grand Prix, rather than simply being bolstering for the monarchy, is essential for the worldwide image of the regime.
If this weekend’s race is marred by protest action, to the point that the racing is disrupted, it will show, to a truly global audience, that all is very much not well in Bahrain. If a single person, whether high-profile driver or unknown team member, is injured, even for reasons not connected to the protests, it will be taken by the rest of the world as an indicator that the protesters have a point.
The protesters have far more to gain from the Grand Prix than the authorities. If all goes well, the protesters lose nothing. The worldwide media is against the Bahraini government, and will likely remain so regardless of how the race proceeds. If the race goes badly, the opposition will be vindicated, and anti-regime sentiment will spread.
In short, the safety of all concerned is of paramount importance to the monarchy. Failure is not an option.