The Bahrain Grand Prix: Another Case of Burying Heads in the Sand?

12/04/2012 12:41 BST | Updated 12/06/2012 10:12 BST

Mike Gatting famously demonstrated some jaw-dropping naivety 22 years ago when, on the eve of a rebel England cricket tour to South Africa in 1990, he revealed: "I don't know much about how apartheid works but one way to find out is by going there."

As captain of the rebels who toured the country the year that Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Gatting personified all that was wrong then - and still is now - about some sportsmen and women and their various governing bodies: ignorance and-or a refusal to believe that their actions may have ramifications far greater than they are willing or able to grasp.

Sport and politics don't or shouldn't mix was the favourite line from those justifying their actions but that hasn't stopped Olympic boycotts over the years such as African nations staying away from Montreal in 1976 in protest at the New Zealand rugby tour of South Africa and more than 60 countries who didn't travel to Moscow in 1980 over the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. The UK government tried to stop the British team from going but the British Olympic Association was having none of that and sent a team that included the future London 2012 boss, Lord Coe. It seems boycotts and protests are a 'good thing' until it affects the people who have actually trained - probably for years - for their shot at the big time.

But politics and sport are inseparable, now more than ever. Surely nobody really believes that organisations such as FIFA or the International Olympic Committee operate in bubbles, untainted by world events or political pressures. How else can you explain Russia and China getting their hands on two of the world's biggest sporting events? And Formula 1 is no different.

Twenty-seven years ago, the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) cancelled the South African Grand Prix because of the issues surrounding apartheid. In the UK, this was at the height of the anti-apartheid movement that was desperately trying to persuade the British government to impose economic sanctions on South Africa. Mrs Thatcher resisted those calls but F1 gave in and didn't return to the country until 1992. So, is it a big hurrah for F1's noble stand?

Well, no. There had been a GP in South Africa every year bar one since 1960. So those are the years that included the Sharpeville Massacre, the Soweto uprising, the death of Steve Biko and many other related tragedies. FISA's exit was belated to say the least, so why should the sport now care about protestors in a small middle-eastern kingdom.

Just yesterday, F1's biggest player, Bernie Ecclestone, was reported as saying: "We're not involved in any of the politics in Bahrain, over who is right or wrong" while world champion Sebastian Vettel's view is: "We should go and race and not worry about something that's not our business."

In some respects they're right. Why should F1 become embroiled in Bahrain's politics? Why should F1 not go to Bahrain but still go to China this weekend, whose human rights record leaves much to be desired. Well, that's also for others to decide but I'm not overly comfortable with either venue and as someone who staged his own one-man protest against China by not watching any of the Beijing Olympics, I'll be doing the same on Sunday. Ineffective? Irrelevant? Quite possibly, but if we all accept the status quo and don't question situations that fly in the face of decency because it 'won't make any difference', then those countries' leaders who are abusing their power and position have won and we are complicit in perpetuating their 'legitimate' authority. Can we really all ignore what's taking place just because it isn't anything to do with us? Are the thousands dead in Syria not our concern either? At what point should matters of personal (in)convenience be replaced by social - and global - responsibility?

F1 represents a global sport or business (call it what you will) which has influence and power across a broad spectrum ranging from individual racing fans to international corporations. What sort of message is the sport sending by allowing teams and cars covered with well-known brand logos to race whilst serious civil unrest rages nearby? All the talk coming from Ecclestone and the teams about Bahrain relates to safety - that's their safety, not of those beyond the race track's perimeter fence. Their concerns - and everyone else's - really ought to run far deeper than that.