SPORT and politics should never mix - it only ends up in tears for the fans, writes Toby Lock.
Red Bull Racing are currently getting ready to defend their Formula One titles with a heavy testing regime in Spain, but the first race of the 2011 season has been postponed as trouble continues to rage on in Bahrain.
This is not the place to discuss who is right or wrong in the political struggle in the Middle East, but now that the race has been officially postponed, only the sport will suffer.
Even if the feud is to end amicably, all the publicity when the race is eventually held will be about the events which triggered the delay in the first place. The emphasis will no longer be on the sport, but on the politics.
F1 is probably not as big as the Olympics on the global stage, nor is Bahrain as big as the USA or the former Soviet Union. But the political invasion destroying a sporting event has its echoes in the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games in the midst of the Cold War.
The Games of 1980 were held in Moscow, prompting the USA and many other nations to boycott the event. Ironically, the Games in ‘84 took place in Los Angeles, with many Eastern Bloc countries making their excuses and giving the event a miss. The only losers were the athletes who had trained for the peak of their careers - only to be told they were not allowed to take part.
In the case of the F1 teams, there are safety implications. Red Bull’s Mark Webber is a leading figurehead among the drivers, and a spokesperson for the Drivers’ Association and he said that the race should be postponed until members of the teams are ensured safer conditions - and he is right to do so.
If the conditions of their already dangerous sport are made even more volatile off the track, then the teams have every right to make their excuses and miss the flight out to Bahrain. But who is to say that it will improve by the time they are ready to travel to the rescheduled event? Few fans would begrudge the teams from boycotting the event all together on the grounds of their own safety.
And what about the fans? Although not the most popular of circuits, the Bahrain Grand Prix is the season opener and is sure to have attracted fans from all over the globe to witness the first race.
Late hotel and flight cancellations won’t matter to the teams and staff who will have already claimed their expenses back, but those regular fans going out to see the first F1 action since November won’t be so lucky. The airlines and hotel chains will want to keep a tight grip on the money they have coined in from eager fans looking forward to enjoy a weekend of racing.
Now that the race has postponed, it will mean two weeks longer to wait before the season starts. Fans are already chomping at the bit for the cars to get out on track and compete again - another two weeks will seem like months.
And the season is unlikely be extended, rather a rescheduled Bahrain race will be squeezed in between the already hectic calendar, set to end on November 27 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The teams have already cancelled the official test scheduled to take place in Bahrain at the beginning of March, and will work frantically to get another circuit organised to hone their cars that little bit more before the new season opener in Melbourne, Australia on March 27.
For everyone’s sake, let’s hope the crisis in Bahrain is sorted out sooner rather than later, but the F1 season is yet another innocent casualty as politics continue plan havoc with everyone outside their jurisdiction.