The friendly between the USA and Egypt earlier this month was cancelled.
That now seem to just be the start of the ripple effect the current political instability across the Arab world is having on sport.
First it must be said that sport pales into insignificance compared to the struggle for people’s fundamental democratic rights.
The news this morning that 200 people may have been killed in disturbances in Libya should hammer home the point that although it took 18 days, and the world tuned on him, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak did not decide to turn the guns on his own people like Romanian’s Ceaucescu and the brutal Chonese dictatorship in Tianeman Square.
Libya’s Colonel Qadaffi decided otherwise. In the eastern port town of Benghazi where most of the opposition to his 42 year authoritarian rule is centered, doctors report 200 fatalities and over 900 injured. Human Rights Watch says at least 173 people have been killed in Libya since demonstrations began on Wednesday.
In the light of that, the main focus of this article seems trivial. Formula 1 are due to hold their next motor car race in Bahrain and are having second thoughts. Discredited F1 President Bernie Ecclestone has announced he will leave the decision to Bahraini crown prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifah, son of the Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah and, according to the BBC, the country’s heir apparent.
Ecclestone’s admiration for dictators has surfaced before. In July 2009, he said he preferred totalitarian regimes to democracies and praised Adolf Hitler for his ability to â€œget things doneâ€. In that same Times interview, he also criticised the concept of democracy, claiming that â€œit hasnâ€™t done a lot of good for many countries, including Britain.
Ecclestone’s decision to announce he will leave all authority to a dictator when people are protesting in the streets against dictatorship seems bizarre and ignorant.
The attitude seems to be that al-Khalifah knows best what’s going on there and his opinion can be relied upon. We can all heave a sigh of relieve that news organisations don’t take the ridiculous line Ecclestone is taking, to trust the word of a man who could well be a Bahraini Comical Ali.*
The race is due in Bahrain on March 13th and the practice sessions ten days before, and although, not yet as violent as Libya the situation in Bahrain is precarious.
The death toll is reported as six and anti-government demonstrators have established a protest camp in Manama’s central Pearl Square on the model of Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
With six deaths already, it seems outrageous already that Ecclestone is even considering appearing on a platform with the Bahraini princes at the Sakhir track as the security forces are firing on the people.
The British Foreign Office is advising against non-essential travel to Bahrain.
Under what manner of arrogance does Ecclestone think that a car race is essential? That we even have to ask him to consider the safety of his drivers and crew suggests an indifference to the people who have already died and a tacit approval for the providing a spectacle that would give their killers a propaganda boost.
The better news in Bahrain is that the Sunni dictatorship, another in a mostly Shia country, has decided to call off the police force and leave the Pearl Square to the protestors.
Al-Khalifah has apologised for the deaths:
“I think there is a lot of anger, a lot of sadness, and on that note I would like to extend my condolences to all of the families who lost loved ones and all of those who have been injured. We are terribly sorry and this is a terrible tragedy for our nation,” he said.
That move will save lives and prevent or at worst delay conflict. But in the end, the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes have already fallen. Libya looks to be tottering on the brink.
Despite the moderate demands of the Shia demonstrators for an end to inherent sectarian inequalities in the Gulf State, there is little sign of those who enjoy privilege surrendering it and even less sign of a functional democracy.
Secondly who can tell what the next 11 days have in store? This is a region in turmoil.
So far the disquiet has not spread to 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, or at least not to the level where anyone is reporting it.
But readers should be reminded that the Qatari bidders explicitly used Bahrain as a place where fans could stay to compensate for Qatar’s inadequate supply of hotel accommodation for a World Cup. Sepp Blatter echoed this as the FIFA and Qatari authorities started to drip feed the world the realities of a Qatari World Cup.
There are ten days until the practice laps begin in Bahrain and 11 years until the World Cup begins in Qatar.
Nobody can predict what will happen in either.
*(For those of you too young to recall, Comical Ali was an information minister in Iraq, who swore the Iraqis had repelled US the invasion to reporters who could see the American tanks behind him in Baghdad as he was speaking)