x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa: 'Race can repair Bahrain damage'

'It is because of them we are here,' says Bernie Ecclestone of F1's growth in Middle East.

Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s crown prince, centre, and, to his left, Bernie Ecclestone, speak to journalists.
Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s crown prince, centre, and, to his left, Bernie Ecclestone, speak to journalists.

ABU DHABI // The crown prince of Bahrain is certain that the country's annual Formula One race will take place next year as he awaits the publication of an independent report into the civil unrest that led to this year's event being cancelled.

Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, speaking yesterday on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, said he is confident the Bahrain race will go ahead as planned on April 22, 2012.

"It's looking good," he said. "As a force for moderation, sport is a great unifier. There are certain things that have happened in the country that nobody is proud of. Just like any other country that has faced troubles in the past we will move beyond it and we will grow."

Sheikh Salman said the report, which will be published on November 23, will "give us a narrative of the truth" and instigate change in the kingdom.

"It's a milestone, but after that there will be implementations and recommendations and we will move on," he said. "If it is safe, we will look forward to welcoming you there and we will rise to the challenge."

When asked how confident he was the race would take place as scheduled, he replied: "Very".

He added, however, that he felt the situation had been misrepresented and hoped the successful staging of the grand prix would help repair the damage done to Bahrain's image.

"We feel like we were caricatured in some ways - good guys versus bad guys - whereas in reality the truth is something far more complex," he said. "We are very hopeful this report will lay to rest many of these ambiguities.

"Those who have something to be ashamed of must be held accountable and those who tried their best to keep the country together by working on positive projects and community outreach should be proud of what they did."

Sheikh Salman cited Friday's World Cup qualifier against Iran as an example of how sport can unify a country, adding that he believed bringing Formula One back to Bahrain can have a similar impact.

"The race is a symbol of national unity," he said. "[On Friday] we had a soccer game and everyone was cheering for the same flag and that is what we want to do. We want to bring back to the forefront the spirit of nationalism, which is there and is strong and this race is part of our passion.

"Anyone with a moderate agenda, a global agenda, knows that the race is what ties Bahrain to the world. Extremists on either side might disagree, but the majority of people, especially those that love their country and want to be part of the world, support it."

Bernie Ecclestone, the commercial rights owner of F1 and the man who submits the calendar to the world motor sports governing body, said he is confident about Bahrain returning next year.

Were it not for Bahrain's ground-breaking F1 race in 2004, Ecclestone added, the Abu Dhabi race may have taken longer to come to fruition.

"It is because of them we are here and growing in this part of the world," he said. "If we hadn't done this early on, we wouldn't be here.

"Everybody is content; no dramas. We wouldn't have put it on the calendar otherwise. We didn't have to put it on the calendar; it was only because we knew we would be there that it is in the calendar."

Ecclestone said that protesting was in "fashion" and pointed towards recent movements in England and New York.

Formula One is set to return to the United States next year for the first time since 2007. A race is planned for Austin, Texas, in November, yet concerns have been growing regarding a dispute between the organisers and the circuit contractors.

Ecclestone acknowledged that problems exist but said he expects the race to go ahead.

"It's a bit of an uphill struggle at the moment," he said of the race, which is scheduled to take place at the custom-built Circuit of the Americas and be the 19th from 20 races on the 2012 calendar.

"There are two parties: one that is building the track and one that has the contract, and they forgot to talk to each other. But they want it to happen, so they'll sort it out."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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