MANAMA, BAHRAIN - Formula One has published a statement committing the sport to respect for human rights as it prepares for one of the more controversial races on the calendar in Bahrain this weekend.
An uprising led by the strategic Gulf kingdom's Shi'ite Muslim majority to demand reforms in early 2011 led to a crackdown and forced the cancellation of that year's race.
There have been sporadic protests ever since and more were held on Friday as activists accused Bahrain's Sunni rulers of again staging the event to paper over abuses.
Media reports also drew attention, however, to a “Statement of Commitment to Respect for Human Rights” that was posted without fanfare in the legal notices section of the www.formula1.com website.
“The Formula One Group is committed to respecting internationally recognized human rights in its operations globally,” it declared.
“Whilst respecting human rights in all of our activities, we focus our efforts in relation to those areas which are within our own direct influence.”
The statement said “proportionate steps” would be taken, including to “understand and monitor through our due diligence processes the potential human rights impacts of our activities.”
The sport will also seek to “identify and assess ... any actual or potential adverse human rights impacts with which we may be involved either through our own activities or as a result of our business relationships, including but not limited to our suppliers and promoters.”
Britain's Guardian newspaper saw the statement as a victory for campaigners and compared it to the words of 84-year-old Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone two years ago.
“We don't go anywhere to judge how a country is run. I keep asking people, 'What human rights?' I don't know what they are,” he said then. “The rights are that people who live in the country abide by the laws of the country, whatever they are.”
The paper quoted British human rights lawyer Daniel Carey, of law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, as saying campaigners would be keeping a close eye on events in Bahrain.
“Formula One for the first time has promulgated a human rights policy, which is quite significant given F1's complete disavowal of any human rights policy in the past,” he said.
“We hope to see them carrying out proper human rights due diligence both before they award a race contract to a human-rights-abusing state and also during the term of that contract.”