When the sport you love insults your values, your values must win. That's why I'd like to publicly announce the immediate dumping of my formerly loved sport, Formula One, and offer you a peek at my break-up letter:
Dear Formula One:
How did it come to this?
By believing F1 could race in Bahrain this past weekend without endorsing an authoritarian regime and its violent repression of a pro-democracy movement, Bernie Ecclestone, your billionaire British owner, has inserted you into the centre of the ongoing Arab Spring, and even helped to re-ignite it.
The only people who will suffer for what will likely happen next -- protests met by intense crackdowns to keep the race alive, and with it the impression all is "normal" -- will be Bahrainis. For this lack of morality, this crassness, this indifference, I cannot forgive Ecclestone. And for passively doing as he says, F1, I cannot forgive you.
Despite Ecclestone's assertions that "we're not here to get involved in the politics," now that F1 cars are on the track outside of Manama, the Bahrain capital, for last Sunday's race, he is showing he is most definitely political -- a hyper-capitalist without worry for human rights.
That I already knew, I suppose.
What I didn't know was that I would feel, as a fan, powerlessly complicit in Ecclestone's actions in the name of you, a sport I've secretly loved for a long time despite most Canadians thinking that's weird. So when Ecclestone said Bahrain was happy for F1 to come last weekend, I heard only Khadija al-Mousawi, the wife of the imprisoned, hunger-striking rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who told Reuters, "I can assure you that I am not happy, my family is not happy."
I too am not happy. Not at all.
For months fans, rights groups, activists and journalists have been telling you, imploring you, F1, not to go to Bahrain, just like you unwisely did last year. It bugged me as the days drew closer to the race that you worried aloud mostly about the safety of F1 crews and drivers rather than for Bahrainis. Only Red Bull driver Mark Webber had the morals to say how conflicted he was with the whole thing.
Now that you're there in Bahrain, things are not good. Protestors are calling for "days of rage" because you showed up. Since Thursday one race team has been involved in a firebombing, with staff fleeing the country and those remaining choosing to return to their hotel before dark rather than practice for Sunday's race. Another team's bus has been exposed to protests, too.
Who knows what will happen next?
What is hardest to watch in this mess, however, is Ecclestone. While the ruling Bahraini regime has built a non-political bubble at the track for him and you, F1, to portray to the world that everything's normal, to do this has meant Bahrainis are being subjected to intense police presence, with shops shuttered, and a report that 18 people have been wounded in clashes with security forces.
And yet Ecclestone, who would lose considerable money if he cancelled the race, has scoffed at renewed suggestions to do so. "I can't call this race off. Nothing to do with us. We've an agreement to be here, and we're here," he told the Telegraph.
The only good thing to come of this, F1, is that your tone-deafness to democracy and human rights in the Middle East has given Bahrain's opposition the eyes and ears of the world this weekend.
But for not listening to all of us who told you to boycott this complicity with Bahrain's regime, F1, it's over. I've booked my hotel to come see you in Montreal for the grand prix this June. I'm still going to go to the city, but I won't be spending any time with you.Suggest a correction