Chill wind of the real world
Damien Smith, Editor
The atrocities inflicted by the Bahraini government on its own people threw into sharp focus the fact that sport and politics do indeed mix. Whatever Bernie Ecclestone might say.
As Nigel Roebuck describes in Reflections this month, Ecclestone and the FIA dallied over the decision to cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix, then left it to the ruling Al Khalifa family to make the call. That way, cynics observed, Bernie would still get paid. (He has since made it clear he will only accept the $30m sanctioning fee if the race takes place later in 2011. How noble.) Whatever, the FIA should’ve acted as soon as the first protester fell. It should not have been left to Ecclestone, for whom ethical pangs on human rights don’t seem to be a problem.
As the self-confessed dictator of Fl (these days on behalf of those nice people at CVC), Ecclestone has never thought twice about doing deals with countries in which democracy is a dirty word. He has chased the money and headed East, gradually abandoning F1’s European heartland and the sport’s true fanbase. The teams, manufacturers and sponsors have followed, absolving themselves of responsibility, because it’s in their interests.
That’s all very well until F1’s insular perspective is rudely jolted by the real world. Bahrain’s veneer of respectability has been tarnished for good and, thanks to the lethargy of the FIA and Ecclestone’s refusal to condemn the violence dealt out to the protesters, the same is true of Fl. Still, were we surprised by Frs collective silence? No. And that is the most damning point of all.
Politicians have always used sport to generate investment and employment, and also to enhance and legitimise their countries’ position within the international community. But after Bahrain, those of us that benefit from such events can no longer turn a blind eye. A mass pricking of a collective Fl conscience? About as likely as ‘peace in our time’. But Grand Prix racing’s embarrassing association with this dreadful episode must have registered in more than one boardroom. We can only hope it’s the catalyst for a turning of the tide. F,..„ cclestone continues to intrigue and occasionally horrify us (praising Hitler for his ability to “get things done”, and so on). But perhaps some of the old mystique has been eroded by two recent biographies of the man. It was no great surprise that the book written by Susan Watkins, reviewed
by Nigel Roebuck in the February issue, included little that could be described as salacious. More ‘juice’ was expected in the second volume on Bernie of the past few months, written by the infamous biographer of Conrad Black, Richard Branson and others, Tom Bower. As it turns out, Bower’s work offers little more than Watkins’ excellent book — other than a lot of mistakes about motor racing. If you’re expecting a tale that lifts the veil on a gangland existence, you’ll be disappointed. Bernie is legit, apparently.
Will the full story of Bernie Ecclestone ever be really told? Probably not. But to date, Susan Watkins has got closest to the definitive account. If you’ve not already had enough of the man, it’s her book we’d recommend.
Bower is not the only one who makes mistakes. Last month I told you our racy James Hunt cover photo was taken by Patrick Lichfield. Wrong. The man who captured the image that seems to have made most of you smile rather than wince was Arthur Sidey. Credit where it’s due — and apologies for the error.