SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Former world champion Damon Hill threw his weight back behind the controversial Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on Friday, one week after he urged the authorities to reconsider going ahead with the race.
The 1996 champion had supported the race after taking part in a fact-finding mission last December but had a re-think following reports of almost daily clashes between anti-government protestors and police.
The television pundit changed his stance again on Friday after the sport’s governing body decided the race should go ahead on April 22.
“I am now 100 percent behind the FIA decision to race in Bahrain. All the arguments have been made for and against,” the Briton said in an email.
”Human rights organisations have had their cases heard. No one is under any illusions about the situation. But the less vocal majority of Bahrainis also have a right to get on with their lives and we also have a responsibility to our F1 fans in the region.
“I hope that F1 can be seen as a symbol of all that is possible if we can work together peacefully.”
Rights activists and some opposition groups have called for the race to be cancelled for the second year in a row.
Last year’s was scrapped following a bloody crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising.
While Formula One prepared to travel to Bahrain after this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, other sporting celebrities had already arrived in the kingdom for a pro-celebrity golf tournament this weekend.
European Tour champions Paul Casey, Colin Montgomerie and Thomas Bjorn as well as LPGA champion Suzann Pettersen will lead teams in the Bahrain Invitational tournament at the Royal Golf Club’s Montgomerie Course.
They will partner former tennis player Tim Henman, former soccer internationals Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli and U.S. Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Montana.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by John Mehaffey