Away from unrest, Bahrain Grand Prix plays to empty stands

Reuters reports: When Formula One drivers performed their usual parade around the circuit on the back of a flatbed truck ahead of Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, the seats they were waving at were empty.

Few inside the Formula One bubble had any contact with the demonstrations in villages around the capital, which saw nightly clashes between demonstrators hurling Molotov cocktails and police firing teargas and birdshot.

Demonstrators denounced the Grand Prix as a lavish publicity stunt for a government that crushed Arab Spring protests. Their banners depicted race car drivers as riot police. Bahrainis mostly just stayed away.

Formula One earns its money from TV rights and corporate sponsors, not from selling tickets. But a government that wants to show that life is returning to normal had spared no expense to attract punters.

There was a rock music stage. Kids could enjoy tents for circus performers, arts and crafts, and musical theatre.

“It’s like Disneyland,” said one foreigner working in the stalls. “This is the best entertainment village I’ve seen in a long time. They’ve really pushed the boat out for obvious reasons.”

Still, the TV cameras on the front of the cars beamed to the world the unmistakable images of empty bleachers as the racers roared past the grandstands.

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