F1 must take a stand against racism

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Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes MP4/23, 2008 | McLaren mediaYesterday I wrote that “I haven’t seen any evidence of a racial motivation” in the attacks Lewis Hamilton has been subjected to in Spain this week.

Today damning evidence of that fact has come in from a number of sources, the worst being of four spectators at the track with blacked-up faces and gorilla masks wearing T-shirts bearing the phrase “Hamilton’s family”.

It is now indisputably clear that Hamilton’s skin colour is a point of objection for a despicable minority.

The time has come for everyone involved in Formula 1, be they fans, drivers, team personnel or the sports’ governing body, to take firm action against this group and ensure they are kept out of F1 races, tests and other events.

Other sports have spent years trying to purge the racist element from their grandstands. There has to be an immediate reaction against this alarming new development.

It goes without saying that the sports’ governing body must show it is taking this seriously. And I would suggest this a good moment for Fernando Alonso to step forward and remind some of his countrymen that professional rivalry is one thing, but racism is indefensible.

Tomorrow every British newspaper and many international ones will carry pictures of the kinds of vile behaviour that many of us thought only happened at football matches. Questions will be asked about why the Circuit de Catalunya owners did not throw these people out of the venue.

A swift denunciation and strong action from the sport must follow. Formula 1 cannot allow itself to be tinged by accusations of racism.

Update at 11:57, 4/2/08 – Britain’s biggest selling newspaper put the story on their front page today. Meanwhile the FIA has asked Spain motor racing body, the Real Federacion Espanola de Automovilismo (RFEA), to submit an explanation of how they plan to prevent a repeat.

They will have to work quickly as several teams including McLaren are testing in Jerez from Tuesday next week. The two races to be held in Spain this year in Barcelona and Valencia may be under threat.

Update at 15:12, 4/2/08 – The RFEA have condemned the spectators, saying:

The Federation wants to show its absolute repulse at these incomprehensible events, as well as showing its support to the McLaren team and especially to their driver Lewis Hamilton. Car racing is a sport where events that divert from cordiality between fans and drivers and teams will not be allowed. These kind of madmen who confuse sporting rivalry with violence must know that the Federation will have no tolerance with them.

The RFEA wants to make clear that the protagonists of this event were a very small group that doesn’t represent the thousands of people who enjoy this sport in a fun and cordial way. The RFEA also wants to highlight the speed at which the Circuit officials removed the offensive banners and the trouble markers from the stands. The governing body has asked the circuits to increase their preventive measures to avoid this kind of incidents in the future.

Additionally the Circuit de Catalunya issued this statement threatening potential legal action against the spectators:

We strongly support the FIA’s position with regards to fighting against all racial, political or religious discrimination in motor sport. The Circuit de Catalunya will not allow even the smallest incident to repeat itself within its facilities, and new measures are currently being taken into consideration in addition to those implemented during the latest sessions.

These measures have been studied with the support of the Catalan Police and the Circuit’s security services, and they will be reinforced in the upcoming tests sessions and at the Gran Premio de Espana Telefonica de Formula 1. In case of sanctions, the Circuit de Catalunya may consider the possibility of taking legal actions against those who caused the incidents, regardless of the magnitude.

The Circuit de Catalunya will officially state its position to the FIA, the Real Federacion Espanola de Automovilismo and the rest of circuits in Spain, with special interest for those who also host Formula 1 tests.

Photo copyright: McLaren media

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86 comments on F1 must take a stand against racism

  1. Disgraceful. They should have been removed from the circuit and banned from any future races or meetings at any FIA organised event.

  2. Pink Peril said on 3rd February 2008, 23:08

    This is a problem for all sports (we have had two recent disgraceful events here in Oz at the Tennis & Cricket)and is only going to get worse before it gets better.

    Racism is not to be tolerated in any form, and those responsible for this should have been ejected from the grounds and not allowed to return.

    If you want to be nationalistic about motor racing, go watch the A1.

  3. Nikos Darzentas said on 3rd February 2008, 23:44

    it’s a disgrace, it’s shameful, and I could use a thesaurus to add more to this… we should not let this go on, at any stage of life, and in particular in F1

    well done to Keith for insisting on this, it’s very important

  4. I agree with you, Keith; I do believe that Alonso should step up to the plate and offer a statement to his fans — not because I think the truly racist minority (there’s a weird misnomer for you, grin) will listen, but because, for at least one other reason, many will lose respect for him if he doesn’t. I know that I will, and I’ve been surprised that I haven’t seen a statement from his camp on this subject already, to be frank.

    However, I do agree with some other posters here, as well — to dignify it too much is to legitimize it at all.

    I made the mistake of commenting on the fray in Barcelona several hours too soon — my disgust was with the trash-throwing, as I would assume there are always racists in every sport and country and otherwise human environment on the planet, however reprehensible — it’s not exactly news. But I honestly didn’t believe this would turn into a “racial issue”.

    An F1 fan commented on my post last night, telling me to be careful with my disdain for McLaren (Dennis & Hamilton) if I didn’t want to be labeled a racist. In classic style, I scoffed it off with a sarcastic line … and then read “further details” about the McLaren attack (and I do consider it one) this morning.

    I am appalled. For a number of reasons.

    I am also appalled that I cannot express my ‘disdain’ for Hamilton/Dennis, without the race card being pulled. I’ve posted again on the subject today, granted, but not to retract what I initially wrote; instead, certainly to express how I feel about the entire subject.

    But, here’s the deal: I resent needing to “dance” that way. I resent anyone who still uses “race” as a divider, when we all need to pull together as ONE race and “carry each other”.

    Sorry, grin … I’m still pretty fired up about all of this, and hope that it will go the way of the dinosaurs, and just like F1 — fast.
    Be well.

  5. frecon said on 4th February 2008, 0:26

    first of all, i’m not trying to defend anyone who did something racist, but thre is an explanation for the outfits.

    this weekend is the carnival party in Spain, and it’s a tradition to wear costumes. usually this costumes are funny or even irreverent. So i’m pretty sure that people wearing that costumes, weren’t trying to offend anyone.

    The racist insult and banner existed, and it’s regrettable, but don’t try to find more than what really happened.

  6. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 4th February 2008, 0:36

    Thanks for the context, Frecon. Can you give us any more details?

    I read elsewhere that it was similar to taunts that some black footballers have received in Spain, including one called Samuel Etoo. I’m no expert on this, I was wondering if anyone else had heard anything similar? As Frecon says this is not to mitigate or trivialise what happened, just to understand it.

    This article in Marca (in Spanish) also seems to have some new information about what went on. A crude translation using Google suggests they’re putting the number of people involved at 3,500, which would be alarming if true:

    “It was not an isolated event, but the general conduct of some 3,500 fans who gathered in the gallery’s main circuit yesterday morning.”

    Perhaps some of the Spanish speakers here could provide a more reliable interpretation?

  7. Steven Roy said on 4th February 2008, 0:58

    Samuel Eto’o is a Barcelona player who received a lot of racist abuse. I am not sure why he was singled out but there were examples of teams with other black players whose fans subject Eto’o to racist abuse.

  8. Number 38 said on 4th February 2008, 1:22

    Why are we spending so much time picking on a few hooligans in the grandstands. Oh, sure, we’re going to ban them from races.
    What about the Muslim hooligans that burn 4000 cars in Paris, how you going to ban them?
    Instead of expecting Alonso to quell the crowd why not ask Bernie to move the race.

  9. Hi, 38 — can you name a country where racism doesn’t exist? To where Bernie should relocate Spain from the circuit?

    Just curious, because I’m a very uninformed American, and I’m only trying to learn here.

  10. Kostyasch said on 4th February 2008, 8:16

    Alonso HAS to get involved, absolutely! I’m surprised that with all the reporters and journalists around he hasn’t condemn these acts yet in Barcelona.

    Not because it’s his responsibilty how his fans behave, but because he has to distance himself and make it clear to his fans that it’s not the support he wants. I do beleive if he harshly condemned this it would stop most of these lunatics acting this way. And even if it wouldn’t (which I don’t beleive) it would be an important gesture.

    Schumacher also distanced himself and condemn it when his fans threatened Damon Hill in 1994. That’s what I expect from Alonso too!

  11. Kostyasch said on 4th February 2008, 8:19

    Frecon!

    I don’t think chanting “f****** black” and so on has anything to do with some Spanish carnival, sorry.

  12. frecon said on 4th February 2008, 9:41

    Kostyasch, I said yesterday, and i repeat now. Racist insults existed and it’s regettable, and it’s not related with carnivals. I only gave an explanations for costumes. Irreverents costumes are a tradition. About politicians, about religion, about celebrities and of course about sport. I don’t know that people but i think they were trying to make fun of Anthony Hamilton going with Lewis at every GP. I think so, but maybe i’m wrong.

    I was yesterday reading a lot of newspaper and i think the translation of Marca is pretty close to reality. Apparently it wasn’t an isolated group of people, and most of the people placed in front of the Mclaren box was booing and insulting Hamilton. Circuit staff decided to fence that part of the stands after a Mclaren responsible made an unofficial complaining. Also staff decided tor retire all posters. i think in a normal situation most of the posters wasn’t offensive, but with all the racist abuse issue, it was a good idea remove it. Also a little group of people was expelled from circuit. Maybe this decissions could in the future save Montmelo to be punish.

    I’d like to belive that the racist abuse was started by a minority, and the crowd start to adding without realising what they were really doing. I’d would like to belive that the racist abuse it wasn’t racism and some people chose the most evident of Lewis characteristics to build insults, and they also could insult the beard of Heidfild, or the bald of Dennis.

    But the fact is, more than 3000 people was shouting, booing, and a lot insulting Lewis and that’s completely regrettable.

  13. Alonso SHOULD step up to the plate and denounce these ‘fans’, for sure.

  14. Michael K said on 4th February 2008, 11:40

    I have a clear opinion on this which is that the root of this racism is Spain itself. If you look at racism in football and how Spanish people in this thread try to explain that it’s partly just a bit of fun just proves my opinion that Spain is at least more racist than any other big European country I know. I don’t think Alonso will speak up as this will probably alienate him from those kind of fans, which I think are quite large in numbers in Spain. Just look at football, Eto’o is just one example, it happens all the time and the Spanish federation does nothing about it. Or the quotes of Aragones, in every other major football nation the manager would’ve been fired, no questions asked. I know that the Spanish people will now say that it’s all not meant that way, but how would you feel if English fans would start treating Alonso the same way? Spain is sadly a little far behind in the fight against racism and shows no signs of tackling it properly.

  15. Adrian said on 4th February 2008, 11:41

    Alonso should definitely step in and publicly criticise the so-called ‘fans’ who have taken part in this dispicable act. It’s clear they hate Hamilton as a lot of fair weather english fans will hate Alonso , but bringing race into it is too easy, backward and bigoted. Spanish football suffers a similar indignity unfortunately as do a lot of Eastern European countries which subject black footballers to horrific chants when national teams play matches. People criticise England football fans, but it’s not like it was in the 80’s – and that’s through schemes like kicking racism out of football. Other sports and nations should look at what the FA has done with english football and take action against those who bring sport into disrepute with racist abuse.

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