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LONDON (AP) - Staging a Formula One race- or other major sporting event- is a quick way for a country with a "tainted brand" to improve its image, according to a leading executive of the motorsport series.

F1 has been criticized by rights groups for persisting with the Bahrain Grand Prix amid allegations of crackdowns and widespread arrests of government opponents.

Bahrain's premier international event was cancelled in 2011 as the Arab Spring uprising engulfed the Gulf kingdom.

F1 board member Martin Sorrell said on Thursday that "running a sporting event does have political implications."

The last two races have gone ahead amid protests despite concerns that the event provides a public relations boost for the island's Sunni-led government. More than 65 people have died in the unrest in Bahrain since 2011, but Shiite opposition leaders and rights groups place the toll closer to 100.

"It's ill-advised to believe that events will not have political ramifications," Sorrell said. "When you think about sporting events, you have to think about it in a social, political and economic context.

"Sporting events, the reason people invest in them, is for political, social and economic reasons. So it's not unnatural that they have political, social and economic ramifications."

While addressing the Leaders in Football conference delegates, Sorrell, the chief executive of advertising giant WPP, highlighted the advantages for troubled nations to attract major sporting events.

"If you were running a country and it had an unknown brand or a tainted brand, what would you do? How could you in a relatively short period of time change the image around that city, the state or the continent?" Sorrell asked.

"The answer is, when you think about it at the minute, Olympics, World Cup, Formula One ... these being the sort of opportunities that have a major global impact in a very short period of time, and can change the way people perceive a region."

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Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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