Joe Stork

Human Rights Watch has warned Formula 1 that by holding next week's Bahrain Grand Prix, it will be endorsing the kingdom's regime despite claims that sport and politics don't mix.

Joe Stork, the deputy middle east director of Human Rights Watch, which monitors human rights issues worldwide, stopped short of calling for the race to be cancelled in an interview with AUTOSPORT. But he believes that if the race does happen then F1 will be seen as supporting the government.

"You can't say that you are not mixing politics and sport when you are coming down on one side," Stork told AUTOSPORT. "You may prefer not to be facing the choice of whether to go in or stay out, but this is the choice F1 faces. Whatever decision it takes, there is a political aspect to it.

"We don't feel that it is our place to be calling for F1 to boycott Bahrain. But it is not a very good situation and it's getting steadily worse. We are not security experts, so that's a whole separate consideration that F1 needs to take into account as well.

"We are looking at a lockdown. F1 is not my world, but this seems to be a terrible climate in which to hold what is supposed to be a competitive, festive sporting event. In the circumstances, I don't know who is going to be having any fun."

Stork believes that even though there is a good chance that security forces in Bahrain can make the race itself safe, F1 will face serious questions about its willingness to race there.

Protests against the race have been ongoing in Bahrain in recent weeks according to widespread news reports, and they are expected to continue once F1 arrives.

"I think that they [F1] will have some explaining to do," said Stork. "I can easily imagine that the security will be such that you won't have the race disrupted on the track and I imagine that they can keep that under control.

"But if you have a situation where there are demonstrations on a nightly, if not daily basis, clashes with security forces who aren't known for the most sophisticated crowd control techniques is not going to be good.

"It's not going to be good for Bahrain, it's not going to be good for F1 either if it happens either during the race or when it's clear that the demonstrations are primarily aimed at stopping the race. That's what the story will be."

Stork accepts that staging the race will be a positive for some in the kingdom - specifically the government - but that this is not a valid argument for the race going ahead.

"From the Bahraini government's point of view, of course," he said when asked if there were potential benefits to the race going ahead. "They are desperate to make the case that the situation is normal from a security point of view, normal in terms of civil strife, and that it's one big happy family.

"But the fact is, it's not normal. I'm not sure that it's the mission or the mandate of F1 to be participating in these kinds of exercises.

"Then there's the financial aspects. The economy of Bahrain is not in the best shape given the year-plus of civil unrest. F1 is a money-maker and is good for Bahraini business and tourism.

"The [ruling] Al Khalifa family are desperate for [the grand prix] to happen. But that doesn't mean that it should happen."