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Volume 10 No. 24

Events and Attractions

Protesters "blocked several roads and police fired teargas at a school in Bahrain on Sunday" as the Gulf state staged an F1 race "promoted by the government as pure sport but seen by the opposition as a public relations stunt," according to Alexander Dziadosz of REUTERS. Scores of police cars and a couple of armored vehicles "stood along the highway from the capital Manama to the race circuit," where the grand prix, won by F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel, took place without incident. Bahrain Centre for Human Rights VP Sayed Yousif al-Muhafda said, "The number of security in some areas is more than the number of protesters." Witnesses at the Sakhir desert circuit, roughly 30 km (20 miles) southwest of the capital, said that "there was no sign of unrest in the immediate vicinity." Asked for comment on the reported clashes, which included more of the near-nightly violence between police and youths in villages near the capital, an Interior Ministry official said only that "everything was normal" (REUTERS, 4/21). The BANGKOK POST reported witnesses said that "masked youths set alight tyres on roads in Shiite villages just outside Manama, but access remained open to the Sakhir circuit." Queues at the circuit "confirmed a heavy security presence as every vehicle slowed to pass through a single file inspection by gun-carrying security guards" (BANGKOK POST, 4/21).

'STUPID' COMMENT: In London, Paul Weaver reported F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone "has a habit for maladroitness that has become more noticeable as each of his 82 years has passed." But he "sounded alarm bells here when he seemingly called the Bahrain government 'stupid' for staging a grand prix because of the opportunities it presented to pro-democracy protesters." In fact, Ecclestone, who has this week been extremely positive toward a race that continues to attract negative press, "was trying to make a tongue-in-cheek remark and apparently it just came out wrong" (GUARDIAN, 4/20). Also in London, Kevin Eason reported "in the impetuous world of social media, the only word that stuck was 'stupid,'" although BBC sports correspondent Dan Roan, who conducted the interview, "was clear that Ecclestone was being ironic and that he meant that the government had given its opponents a platform for protest." Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the race’s founder and heir to the Bahraini throne, said, "It’s Bernie being Bernie. We want to celebrate our connection to the international community, and it is a force for good. We are not ashamed of people of differing views. What we object to is people who use violence to further their own political goals" (LONDON TIMES, 4/20). In London, Paul Weaver reported "it required a refined level of tunnel vision to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, to separate the actual event from the absurd circus that surrounded it, of politicians, PR people, royals, police, security staff and activists, all anxious to bring their own fervent spin to the proceedings." The Bahrain Int'l Circuit "can claim a victory, of sorts." There were "no breaches of security at the track." More than that, the teams said that "they actually felt safe." The paddock "was calm" (GUARDIAN, 4/21). 

RULE CHECK: EUROSPORT reported Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn believes that F1 teams "should re-examine the gearbox penalty rules after Lewis Hamilton was handed a grid drop in Bahrain because of circumstances beyond his control." Hamilton "was moved back five places after he needed a gearbox change following damage caused by a debris-induced tyre failure." After hearing private frustrations from his driver about the situation -- because he was being moved back through no fault of his own -- Brawn thinks that "it could be worth F1 having a fresh discussion about the situation" (EUROSPORT, 4/21).

Undaunted by the Boston Marathon bombings, "big crowds lined the route of London's mass road race on Sunday to cheer on around 36,000 runners," many of whom wore black ribbons to honor the dead and wounded, according to Shirbon & Afanasieva of REUTERS. Hundreds of extra police "were deployed to secure the first race in the World Marathon Majors series" since two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday killed three people and wounded 176. One spectator held up a placard that read "Come on London, do it for Boston!" while some runners had the name of the U.S. city emblazoned on their vests, "but despite these somber reminders the mood was overwhelmingly one of celebration." Before the start of the men's elite and mass races, official commentator Geoff Wightman "led the crowd in a tribute to Boston." Wightman: "This week the world marathon family was shocked and saddened by the events at the Boston Marathon. In a few moments a whistle will sound and we will join together in silence to remember our friends and colleagues for whom a day of joy turned into a day of sadness." The packed ranks of competitors bowed their heads and stood silently for 30 seconds, "then clapped and cheered when a second whistle marked the end of the tribute" (REUTERS, 4/21). In London, Sadie Gray wrote London Marathon Race Dir Hugh Brasher said that a full security review had taken place, and promised "an amazing show." The police presence around the route had been increased by 40%. Baggage Manager Phil Keith said that extra security had been "put in place around the bags of the runners." Keith said that "34 articulated lorries would take the rucksacks of the thousands of runners from the start in Blackheath in south east London to the finish on the Mall near Buckingham Palace" in the center of the capital (LONDON TIMES, 4/21). Also in London, the marathon pledged to donate £2 ($3) for every finisher in Sunday's event to the One Fund Boston "set up to raise money for victims of the explosions" (INDEPENDENT, 4/21). The AFP reported "with around 35,500 people expected to complete the London race," London Marathon organizers hoped to raise more than $100,000 for the fund (AFP, 4/20).

BRITISH RESOLVE: Broadbent & Kennedy reported the "mood of defiance" was reflected by London Marathon Charitable Trust patron Prince Harry, who "handed the winners their medals." Prince Harry: “It’s fantastic, typically British. People are saying they haven’t seen crowds like this for eight years around the route. It’s remarkable to see.” The prince added it was “never an option” for him to cancel his appearance. Prince Harry: “No one has changed any plans, volunteers, security, nothing has changed” (LONDON TIMES, 4/22). In London, Anna Kessel wrote athletes "attacked the London Marathon race organisers" after a dangerous crash happened between a men's wheelchair racer and a top woman runner a drinks station around the 15km mark. Olympic champion Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia was effectively "taken out of the race" as she collided with wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy. Gelana got to her feet and continued but the "damage had already been done" and, as with Cassidy, the 25-year-old "ultimately never recovered." A furious Cassidy blasted race organisers. Cassidy: "It's something I have mentioned before. I don't know who's responsible but every year we come to overtake the women, there's 10 chairs going at 20mph and the poor women are scrambling to find their feet" (GUARDIAN, 4/21).

WAKE-UP CALL: The PA reported British Gold Medalist Mo Farah revealed that comments he had overslept before running in the London Marathon were "just a joke" and said he had been "one of the first athletes" on the bus. Asked how he was feeling, the 30-year-old Londoner said as he ran down the street, "Yeah, feeling good." And had he warmed up? "Not yet!" he replied. "I'm late! I woke up late! I'm going to miss the bus!" he laughed. However, the Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion later tweeted: "Just to clarify, I had breakfast at 5am today, my comment about sleeping in was just a joke. I was one of the first athletes on the bus to the start" (PA, 4/21).

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES: The CNA reported Taiwan's National Security Bureau said that "the government will step up its counter-terrorism measures" for the 2017 Universiade in Taipei. Bureau Deputy Chief Wang Teh-lin said that "the bureau will work closely with the Cabinet and the Taipei city government to tighten security for the Universiade and ensure that the event proceeds safely and peacefully" (CNA, 4/19).

Tickets for this summer's two-day Anniversary Games athletics event at London's Olympic Stadium "sold out in 75 minutes amid complaints that the website could not cope with demand," according to Owen Gibson of the London GUARDIAN. On the day that the public accounts committee queried whether the enthusiasm generated by the Games was in danger of "fizzling out," the "stampede for tickets suggested that the public at least wanted to recapture the feeling of watching the likes of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Usain Bolt in action." The 65,000 tickets for each day of competition on July 26-27 "were made available to those who had pre-registered through the British Athletics website." Organizers insisted that the website "had not crashed but had slowed to a crawl amid huge demand for tickets that is likely to have left many would-be purchasers disappointed." The event is "likely to be the only time that the stadium is filled to capacity this summer," after the London Legacy Development Corp. admitted this week that it was "unlikely to hold any pop concerts there before closing it for almost three years for redevelopment" (GUARDIAN, 4/19).

TIMING IS KEY: REUTERS' Keith Weir reported those who missed out on tickets "can still buy seats" for July 28 when Paralympic athletes will be competing. A UK Athletics spokesperson said that these "were also selling well." The timing of the London meeting "is also helpful in attracting top athletes because it's the last major meeting before the world championships in Moscow in August" (REUTERS, 4/19).

Officials said that the Pakistan Cricket Board is "confident and optimistic to get rights to host the 2018 World Cup." The PCB formally sumitted a bid to the Int'l Cricket Council (XINHUA, 4/19). ... Israel has refused to grant permission to 26 runners from the Gaza Strip to travel to the West Bank to run in the first Bethlehem marathon (MIDDLE EAST ONLINE, 4/18). ... Hundreds of athletes on Sunday "braved freezing rain to take part in Bethlehem's first ever marathon, which started at the Nativity Church and ran through refugee camps" (AFP, 4/21).