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Ecclestone finds himself at centre of racism row

NEWS STORY
07/11/2008

There are times when Bernie Ecclestone should bite his lip and say nothing or at least follow the (political) herd and use a spokesman to express himself.

In an age when drivers are forever shadowed by (team) PR people, armed with tape-recorders and instructed to ensure that their charge doesn't say anything remotely controversial and that he isn't misquoted, Bernie, like David Coulthard, can be a source of fresh air, with his off-the-cuff one-liners. However, the F1 Supremo is from a different era, an age when political correctness didn't leave one forever walking on eggshells, running scared of offending one section of society or another.

Much like the Duke of Edinburgh, Ecclestone has a knack of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, for example, his comments, following Alain Prost's (second) retirement from the sport about the "natural culling" of drivers. Then there was the furore - when asked about the possibility of a woman racing in F1 - when he responded; "women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances."

Ecclestone has a quick wit, but these are different times, and he should know that the merest (perceived) slight can result in disaster, leaving politicians, senior policemen, actors, pop stars and broadcasters fighting for survival, and usually losing.

Ecclestone's comment that the episode in Barcelona this year, and the subsequent racist comments on a Spanish website, were a joke, has sparked the anticipated furore, with at least one organization calling for him to resign.

Former footballer Paul Elliot, an ambassador for Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), was quick to hit out at Ecclestone, telling the British media: "The comments are shameful and disgraceful. Lewis Hamilton has made a colossal contribution to the country and the sport, and the sport has a duty of care to protect him and his family.

"Bernie Ecclestone is not fit to be in that environment and he should resign," he added. "There has to be zero tolerance. However successful Ecclestone is, it is clear he is out of touch with the 21st century. It is totally out of order, unacceptable and he should move over."

Ecclestone, sensing that the situation could well snowball, fuelled by a sensationalist media, politicized agitators with their own agendas, and a constant desire to look for the very worst in everyone and everything, was quick to react, telling The Times: "I was the one who pulled the Grand Prix out of South Africa in support of Nelson Mandela because of bloody apartheid before these people knew anything about racism."

Referring to the famous incident in Barcelona earlier this year, he added: "I said to the promoters in Barcelona, 'Let me go and get the people that blacked their faces up and bring them into the paddock and introduce them to Lewis and then see what they've got to say.' But the police said, 'Don't do it.' I personally was going to get them."

There is absolutely no doubt that Ecclestone was not condoning what happened, and he certainly wasn't saying it was funny, he was merely expressing his opinion, and that was that (in his opinion) the Barcelona incident, and the notorious website postings were not as sinister as some make out. Whether he is right or wrong is not important at this time, what is important is that he was not condoning what happened or making light of it.

Sadly, in this day and age one has to be ultra-careful of everything one says, certainly when it comes to the age-old taboo subjects of race, religion, politics and sex.

As we celebrate a wonderful end to the 2008 World Championship let's not allow anyone, inside or outside the sport, to spoil things, to put F1 back in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

There are quite a few reasons to knock Bernie, but this certainly isn't one of them. He made a (silly) comment, that some will probably misinterpret for their own agendas, but let's not twist it out of all proportion.

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