It’s a long held dream that sport can unite everyone on the planet. The FIFA World Cup breaks down barriers faster than men sitting at a negotiating table. The Olympics brings all the nations together with flag parades. Casual observers then become hooked on sports they usually have zero interest in. Unity makes these lesser reported events suddenly important.
And we have F1. A powerful advert for a connected world. The pinnacle of motorsport that travels the globe. A sport for everyone . . . everyone that fits into Bernie Ecclestone’s world view, that is.
The problem with universal sports is they will eventually cross party lines and some will attempt to use them as a tool for their own gain. It is at times like this sport should first be protected, then take a subtle step back. It is a permanent position that can’t be altered when it suits decision makers within that sport. When they voluntarily alter these rules they become as bad as the exterior forces trying to gain leverage by foul means.
In 2012 F1 came under severe scrutiny over the Bahrain Grand Prix. The previous year had seen it cancelled twice due to civil unrest and when it was announced the following season human rights activists called for it to be removed once again. It wasn’t. Bernie Ecclestone said at the time: “I don’t think sport should be involved in politics. When any sport goes into a country, they respect the laws of the country whatever they are.”
On the face of it this is a valid stance to take. Sport should only be used for good, not to thrust ideals on emerging nations. However, human rights should be free from political boundaries and ignoring them to facilitate a multi-million-dollar sport does feel inappropriate. F1 should take note how FIFA have struggled on this front (Qatar! What about Brazil?)
Bernie’s problem with Bahrain was quickly overlooked. This would have been fine if the man in charge of Formula One Management stuck to his own mandate. But Bernie’s biggest problem is his mouth and the ignorant brain it is connected to.
For a man that believes politics have no place in sport, it seems strange he thinks it is fine to make this comment about Vladimir Putin: “He’s the guy who should run Europe.” He added that he didn’t like democracy because not much got done.
The problem he has here isn’t with democracy, but the fact the teams are trying their best to prevent him continuing his reign as sport’s dictator. There’s no suggestion they want to oust him but they are standing firmer on new agreements. Jenson Button recently put the idea forward that Ross Brawn would be a great rule maker for the sport.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Red Bull boss Christian Horner and undoubtedly countless others would join the cause if Brawn showed an interest. Of course, a rule maker superseding the FIA’s view wouldn’t stop Bernie’s commercial arm entirely but it would make him slightly (more) impotent.
So the hypocrisy of Ecclestone’s claims that sport should be free from politics is multifaceted. On one hand we are told politics have no place while he parades with foreign leaders, claiming they should be ruling continents and the current political system in place in those opposing areas is fundamentally flawed.
Within the sport there is no such thing as negotiation or compromise. It is about how much power he can exert on the teams making him richer by the second. Sport is used as a symbol to join people together, to transcend class and gender. Yet he sees the rich and the poor on his own grid.
He makes outlandish comments that women are unable to compete with men. He says men will not take them seriously. This is only true if the men in question are chauvinistic or only interested in self-gain, things Ecclestone can relate to. He claims they are not physically able to drive a Formula One car.
In doing so he completely ignores the achievements of Susie Wolff, how she proved modern F1 cars are fine in the hands of a female. He is ignorant of women in American motorsport. Pippa Mann has completed four Indy 500s. Most famous of all is Danica Patrick. She has 115 Indy Car races to her name and is currently in NASCAR.
To say all women are incapable based on perceived body strength and stamina is ludicrous. There are women out there that easily exceed their male counterparts. It’s a sexist view that should have been buried decades ago.
It continues to be given life when ignorant little men with lots of money hold positions of power for too long.
Formula One is for everyone, like all good sport should be.
Bernie Ecclestone continues to prove he is out of touch with the world, the time we live in, and the sport he represents.