The Genocide Grand Prix?

Vitantonio Liuzzi, Red Bull, Shanghai, 2005With the Olympic Games being held in Beijing this year many influential people have used the opportunity afforded by the publicity to attack China’s abysmal human rights record and support for regimes that perpetrate genocide.

F1’s had a Chinese Grand Prix since 2004. So are none of F1’s millions of fans bothered about being tainted by association with a country that has perpetrated and facilitated immense cruelty?

F1 had to face a similar issue in the late 1970s and early 1980s as it continued to host races in Apartheid South Africa while international pressure grew on the racist regime.

It is a subject that provokes strong opinions – to many fans the intrusion of politics into their favourite sport is an anathema. Others resent it as a hypocrisy, claiming other countries commit crimes of equal or greater magnitude and no-one complains about them.

But the counter-argument to that is pretty strongly put too. In this case we’re talking about China backing a regime that has killed 200,000 people and displaced a further two million. The money to build the Shanghai International Circuit had to come from somewhere, and China cashed a pretty big cheque selling weapons to the Sudanese.

Whatever your feelings about the politics and the Olympic Games, it depresses me that the question of whether F1 should be racing in China under the circumstances has been largely overlooked.

If the Olympics are going to Beijing and drawing attention to a major international issue, F1 seems to be shuffling into Shanghai and doing its best to ignore the same issue. I wonder if that might change by the time F1 returns to China in October, two months after the Olympics have finished.

Photo copyright: Red Bull / GEPA

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58 comments on The Genocide Grand Prix?

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  1. That’s a very good point Keith. I think someone in the paddock should have told something about this in 2004 whene everyone used special words for the new track, the ne paddock, the new atmosphere. No one of them seemed to be interested in the actual situation of China. I hope something will change this year at least.

  2. Journeyer said on 19th February 2008, 12:27

    Let’s be frank: that won’t happen. Or unlikely at the very least.

    Why? Manufacturers.

    Unlike the Olympics (which have big companies as sponsors only), F1 has manufacturers who want to make a profit by their being in the sport. Bringing the human rights issue up just negates that presence in the sport. So for the manufacturers, they’d rather stay quiet about this and make big bucks in the biggest (most populous) nation on earth.

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th February 2008, 12:32

    Good point Journeyer. Many of the manufacturers active in F1 build cars in China.

  4. Yes, but what about the drivers? F1 has very young drivers and no one of them spoke about the problem of human rights in China. People of the same age (20 years old) are FORCED to work with very very small payment. If car manufacturers stay quiet (and we know the reason) my hope was that one of the drivers could say something. I know it’s impossible, but who knows…

  5. Steven Roy said on 19th February 2008, 13:43

    Bernie prefers to deal with dictatorships. He said so only this week. He has no interest in where races are held beyond how it affects his bank balance. Formula 1 drivers and team personnel are permanently ‘on message’ so would never dream of saying anything negative. Even the ludicrous corner at Shanghai was barely criticised.

    For me the interesting thing about the response to the Olympics going there is that it shows the difference in stature between F1 and the Olympics. I imgaine Bernie’s ego took a bump when he found out that no-one cared about his circus going there but as soon as the Olympics turn up there is outrage on a huge scale.

    China is run by a despicable regime with no interest in what anyone thinks about it. It is involved in numerous horrors from Sudan to the occupation of Tibet to the way it treats its own people. However unless they let someone without a pass into the paddock no-one in F1 will make any comment.

  6. yes and now how do we justify all that F1 merchandise offered on all the F1 sites, on many F1 blogs and bought by so many F1 fans … 99% of it is made in China as we are all aware, right ?

  7. Daniel said on 19th February 2008, 14:10

    That’s a good and deep subject. Grand Prix racing and human rights violation…

    To begin with, almost every single muslim country would have problems, for the way they treat women (even tough the GP hosts – Turkey, Bahrain and Malaysia, that I recall – are the least restrictive, but none of them have our hard-fought western “equality of genders”)

    Based on the same thing, the United States would have serious problems to get back in the calendars, not only for their overseas wars, but for they way they treat foreign prisioners, with disregard to the Geneva Pact for war prisioners…

    Even my beloved Brazil would have some issues, with the most recent and brutal event being a teenage girl arrested, for stealing a wallet or so, with twenty adult men in a small cell in the Amazon, in a rural area of ParĂ¡ state, during two months…

    I’ll have to leave my room… I’ll continue soon…

  8. Robert McKay said on 19th February 2008, 14:22

    I think Daniel has hit the nail in the head here. It’s all well and good being principled when it comes to this stuff (for instance, a Zimbabwe Grand Prix might look pretty difficult to justify at the minute, the cricket issue is a perennial problem with them it seems), but things are never as black and white as they might seem. Shades of grey are always involved, and China wouldn’t be the only place where you could argue that we shouldn’t go on principle until non-motorsport related things have been sorted out.

    Sorry, if it seems like I’m rambling, it’s because I don’t know what I’m arguing for here, other than to say “hmm, tricky one”.

  9. Daniel said on 19th February 2008, 14:30

    Putting things this way, only European countries, Canada and perhaps Australia would be free from questioning, and only because we are considering present, current human rights violations…

    Oops, not even Europe would be free, since racism IS a serious human rights violation… I was only considering violations perpetrated by the Governments, not by citizens…

    China is far from being an isolated case, and, as you pointed out brilliantly, since Bernie prefers tobacco-friendly dictatorships, I think, sadly, it’ll be hard to see any other protest like those against South Africa anytime soon…

  10. openwheel said on 19th February 2008, 15:44

    Sounds as if all violators of ALL human rights should not have a race. Well who decides—Do we have a scale to measure such abuse. I mean is China worst then say Bahrain?? These are all interesting views, but as an American I thought we made a grave mistake in not going to Moscow in the 1980 Olympics. Politics are outside of sports. That sounds harsh but we have to feel this way as a group. Individually if you object to China or the USA (still no race here anymore) then don’t attend or watch. People are political and have certain points of view, but these can never be confused with a sport. I often find it strang when someone thinks that by running a race in China means that somehow we (as fans) support China’s views. Serving over in the region as a young man I saw first hand what types of abuses the Chinese govt can met out, but I still watch the race every year and I will watch the Olympics later this year!!! Politics and Sports do not mix.

  11. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th February 2008, 15:50

    In these arguments phrases such as “sport and politics do not mix” get repeated like a mantra. I don’t understand why.

    Art can be political. Business can be political. Music and science and television can be political. Why should sport be any different?

  12. Richard C said on 19th February 2008, 16:37

    Of course people will say sport and politics don’t mix. Sport (like cultural exchanges) is often used as an easy weapon to score a point when meaningful actions such as trade sanctions or diplomatic isolation are avoided. It is most often used by those who have no interest in the sport involved or possibly in any sport. There is a huge hypocrisy in the actions of people who deny others their pleasures so they can display their sanctimonious indignation.

    Sport is not about success through morality, the pinnacle of any sport or indeed the success of the sport itself is not reached through the ‘goodliness’ of its actions.

    The motivation of those who oppose participation in China needs to be examined. I regret many do so from peer pressure (Mr Spielberg) rather than any decision based on informed opinion. China is far from perfect but it will not be made perfect or even improved by denying it a Grand Prix. The transition of South Africa from the unacceptable regime of the 1960s/70s was achieved as much through encouragement and participation as it was through isolation.

  13. “Art can be political. Business can be political. Music and science and television can be political. Why should sport be any different?”

    You’re going off the deep end now Keith. Does anyone attack TV or Art museums to remove “political” programmimg or showings? It’s discussed and debated but rarely if ever censored.

    Why should sport be different? As pointed out earlier, the biggest mistake ever was Carter’s knuckle headed ploy to boycott the ’80 Olympics.

    There is a rationale that goes along the lines of domesticating tyrannical regimes through inclusion as opposed to exclusion. The more freedoms the Chinese people experience the less tolerant of suppression they will become.

  14. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th February 2008, 16:46

    I’ve found the last two comments much more persuasive than “sport and politics don’t mix”…

  15. If we attack the Chinese for genocide and selling weapons, then surely we have to attack the USA for selling weapons and (allegedly) torturing inmates at Guantanamo Bay. The simple fact is that, despite the obvious moral reasons not to have a Grand Prix (or the Olympic Games) in China, the people who make these decisions are more heavily influenced by money than they are by morals.
    Granted, “sports and politics don’t mix” is a bit of a stupid thing to say, but, sadly, people don’t watch sports to get a political message, they watch sports for entertainment. I’m not saying that’s right, I’m saying that’s what happens, and it would take something pretty big to change that.

  16. openwheel said on 19th February 2008, 17:07

    Tell me then Keith how do we not use the mantra “sports and politics don’t mix…” Today this is unavoidable. If there were a better way to say it I would have. There are certain areas that we as a people need to be free in our self expression– be it art, sports, or even TV. If, for agruements sake, China is so egregious in it human rights abuses then the entire world would cry out as it did with South Africa. I did not even hear a moan when Bejing was announced as the home of the summer games. To me that was a good thing. If a regime is accused of abuse and the world as a whole attacts politically that regime becomes more isolated and distant from the world community. So in part the Olympics and the race in Shanghi make them feel more of a part of the world. My only hope is that they treat their people better, but I can not make that happen. If I boycott the race this year I earn nothing. If we all boycott the race this year China loses something. The people in power suffer nothing. But the people, the average Chinese citizen suffers more. I like the mantra it works for me!! I am only useing China as an example. I never want to be accused of quantifing human abuses with a scale.

  17. openwheel said on 19th February 2008, 17:09

    Vertigo,
    I could not have said it better myself!!

  18. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th February 2008, 17:16

    I didn’t say you couldn’t use the phrase, I said I didn’t understand it.

  19. Daniel said on 19th February 2008, 17:43

    It would be greater, and much more louder, to see a protest within the event, like the black panthers did at the podium, with black-gloved fists raised to the skies, in the 1968 Olympic Games, I think…

    It wouldn’t deprive those “non-political” from their Grand Prix, and would give a clear message to the World…

    Unfortunately, Formula 1 is too big, there are so many and heavy commercial interests involved, the drivers are much more linked to their sponsors than the olympic athletes, and to exclude even the most unlikely probability, this generation of drivers seem uncapable of complaining against human rights violations perpetrated by GP host nations anywhere (interviews, articles, declarations)…
    But Formula 1

  20. openwheel said on 19th February 2008, 17:47

    I agree with Daniel– the athletes of the Olympic Games can protest while there it would have a much greater political impact. F1 CVC and their sponsers conduct business in China so F1 is out of this.

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