Bahrain F1 Grand Prix rights complaint 'merits examination'
A complaint by activists that human rights regulations were breached when the Formula 1 Grand Prix was staged in Bahrain "merits further examination", a UK government panel has said.
Companies in charge of the sport are alleged to have failed to comply with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) standards.
The OECD says events in member countries must "respect human rights".
The complaint was made by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.
The ADHRB is an organisation that lobbies for democratic reform in the Gulf state.
The Bahrain Grand Prix has become one of the most controversial races in the F1 calendar.
The ADHRB identified four related companies that it said were involved in managing Formula 1 motor racing Grand Prix: Formula One World Championship Limited, Formula One Management Limited (FOM), Delta 3 (UK) Limited and Beta D3 Limited.
It claimed that "holding Grand Prix events in Bahrain in 2012, 2013 and 2014 has helped to present an international image of Bahrain at odds with a reality of ongoing human rights abuses".
ADHRB also alleged the events "have given rise to new human rights abuses, because of the response of security forces to protests associated with the events".
The Bahrain Grand Prix has been staged nine times since 2004, but was cancelled in 2011 after pro-democracy protests were crushed. At least 35 people were killed; protesters claimed the death toll was far higher.
Before the 2012 race, Force India mechanics were caught up in an incident in which a petrol bomb bounced off the roof of their car as protesters battled police.
Last year, a group of British MPs called on F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone to cancel the race again amid further unrest in Bahrain. The 2014 race passed off without incident.
Under its complaints process, each country in the OECD has a National Contact Point (NCP) that decides if any complaint should be taken further.
In the UK this is a panel of experts based in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The NCP said it "accepts as meriting further examination issues relating to Formula One World Championship Limited and Formula One Management Limited's management systems, due diligence, human rights policy and communications with stakeholders and business partners".
However, the NCP said "the fact that the companies promote a high profile event that attracts protests does not itself link them to alleged abuses of protestors. As no other information is offered, the UK NCP rejects the issues raised relating to the companies' obligations to avoid or address impacts".
Formula One Management (FOM) said it "notes the initial assessment of the UK NCP for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and welcomes its straight rejection of most of the complainant's allegations".
"FOM also notes that the NCP has indicated that certain points merit further examination at this early stage, and appreciates the NCP's clear statement that this does not mean that it considers that FOM has acted in any way inconsistently with the guidelines.
"The guidelines comprise a non-legally binding set of voluntary principles for responsible business conduct relating to a variety of areas, including human rights.
"FOM takes this opportunity to confirm its recognition of the importance of respecting the norms of international human rights through the principles enshrined in the guidelines."
The NCP says it will now offer the parties mediation.
Husain Abdulla, executive director of ADHRB said: "We welcome the decision of the National Contact Point to continue to the mediation phase of the proceedings.
"We're optimistic that mediation will result in a solution satisfactory to all parties involved."
The NCP has no powers to punish the subject of a complaint, but a decision in favour of the complainant could put further pressure on the sport ahead of next season's return to Bahrain.