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Ecclestone denies F1 racism claims

NEWS STORY
06/11/2008

In an interview with the BBC, F1 supremo has denied that some of the antipathy shown towards Lewis Hamilton is racist, even claiming that some of the incidents witnessed this year were done as a "joke" and not meant to harm the Englishman.

At the Barcelona test in February, Hamilton and his team were subjected to taunts and abuse, and even the throwing of a few missiles (cans and coins) leading to the team putting up a security cordon around their end of the paddock. However, things turned distinctly sinister when a small group of fans donned wigs and black make up and T-Shirts reading "Hamilton's Familly" (sic).

The pictures, exclusively first shown on Pitpass, drew worldwide condemnation and resulted in the FIA setting up its own anti-racism campaign.

More recently however, ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix, a Spanish website allowed 'fans' to post comments about Hamilton, with many all too eager to express their racist feelings towards the black driver and even their desire to see him killed.

Speaking to Radio 5 Live, Ecclestone denies that F1 has a problem with racism. "I don't think it has anything to do with racism," he said.

"There were a few people in Spain, and it was probably meant as a joke more than anything abusive," he continued. "People look and read things into something that is not there. It's all nonsense.

"In Spain people supported Fernando Alonso and in Brazil they supported Felipe Massa. People are entitled to support who they want to support.

"When was he insulted?" asked Ecclestone. "Do you remember the Ferrari guys that wore the red wigs when they went? People are just expressing themselves."

Earlier this week, Lewis's father, Anthony Hamilton, admitted that there was a point when he considered whether it was worth continuing in F1, not wanting to see his boy subjected to such abuse.

"I did think maybe this is not the place for my family," he told the Daily Express. "I have never said it to Lewis, you just go home and think 'I didn't think the world was like this'.

"I don't believe it is a racist thing in all honesty," he added. "If it is then I don't understand it. I don't think it is just me that's shocked, I think everyone is shocked."

However, responding to Ecclestone's comments, the BBC quotes Lewis Hamilton as saying: "I didn't see it as a joke." However, refusing to allow the few to tarnish the greatest week of his life, he continued: "It's something that happened but it is in the past.

"What's more important to me is that I had a lot of support, especially from UK fans," he said. "As long as I have my country behind me, it makes me very proud. I'm proud to see my fellow countrymen holding up the flag. All the other stuff I need to put behind me."

There are some who, like Ecclestone might feel that it was all a joke, a bit of (not so) innocent banter. However, it is surely up to the victim not the perpetrator to decide what is funny and what is simply hurtful.

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