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F1 chief Ecclestone: Sport and politics should not mix

From Eunice Yoon, CNN
updated 10:03 AM EDT, Fri April 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone tells CNN that sporting should not be involved in politics
  • He says decision to hold race in Bahrain has nothing to do with island's social unrest
  • The event was canceled last year following a violent uprising in protest against rulers
  • Ecclestone says teams did not voice any concerns about competing at Friday meeting

(CNN) -- Should sport and politics mix? Bernie Ecclestone has told CNN that they should not -- and that is why he is happy for Bahrain to host a Formula One race next weekend despite protests from human rights groups unhappy with the kingdom's regime.

The grand prix was canceled twice last year after a civil uprising that saw violent demonstrations in the capital Manama.

This year's race has come under intense scrutiny after jailed activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja went on a hunger strike amid reports of continued unrest, but on Friday motorsport's ruling body, the FIA, issued a statement insisting the April 22 event will go ahead.

"I understand the problems in Bahrain have nothing to do with Formula One," Ecclestone told CNN after his brief meeting with the 12 F1 teams ahead of this weekend's race in Shanghai.

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"Quite the opposite -- we have a lot of support. I mean, there are other issues in Bahrain, but nothing to do with us. We don't go into a country and interfere with the politics of the country anywhere wherever we go.

"I don't think sport should be involved in politics. When any sport goes into a country, they respect the laws of the country whatever they are."

Ecclestone, head of the Formula One Management group responsible for running the elite division of motorsport, said that Bahrain's political problems were a separate issue.

"It doesn't have anything to do with Formula One. Let's put it another way -- assume we didn't have a race in Bahrain, would all the problems stop? There would be no more problems in Bahrain?"

Schumacher - Bahrain is safe

When asked if he thought there might be repercussions of holding such a high-profile event in a potentially unstable setting, he replied: "I'm not even thinking about that. So I'm not thinking of any consequences."

Ecclestone said no assurances had been sought from Bahrain's race organizers or the government that there would be no security problems.

"We haven't asked anybody. We have an event in Bahrain which has been on the calendar since last October. And the people that are the national sporting authority in that country are the only people that could change anything if they wanted to," he said.

"They were the ones that applied for the date, so if they didn't want the race to take place they would have applied for it to have been removed."

Earlier this week Ecclestone said that the F1 teams could decide not to compete in Bahrain if they chose, but they were contractually committed to doing so and that pulling out would have financial consequences.

The 81-year-old said the teams did not voice any concerns during Friday's meeting.

I don't think sport should be involved in politics
Bernie Ecclestone

"Not at all. We had a normal meeting about other matters. And I just sort of asked ... Nobody seemed to have any concerns."

The owners of the host track, Bahrain International Circuit, released a statement insisting that they can stage a trouble-free event.

"The BIC has been clear throughout recent weeks and months that the security situation in Bahrain is suitable for the staging of a major sporting event," it read.

"This assessment has been provided by experienced figures, from both inside and outside the Bahraini government, to motor racing entities which have traveled to Bahrain to do their own research.

"We hugely look forward both to an exciting sporting occasion and to extending the traditional warm Bahraini welcome to Formula One teams, administrators and fans visiting our country next week."

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