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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Spanish GP's Threatened Amid Racial Tension

It has been reported that, due to racial remarks made last weekend in Spain, the FIA has threatened to drop the Spanish races from the F1 schedule.

This was supposed to be an entry that paid tribute to great upsets in sports history. It was intended to parallel the New York Giants’ victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII with the memorable 1987 Indianapolis 500 win for Al Unser Sr. That year Unser stepped in for an injured Danny Ongais and drove to his record tying fourth Indy win as a huge underdog.

However, something happened, during recent Formula 1 testing in Spain, which may produce much larger ramifications in ALL sports. It has been reported that, due to racial remarks made last weekend in Spain, the FIA has threatened to drop the Spanish races from the F1 schedule. Fans were seen jeering and taunting black driver Lewis Hamilton. There were signs and banners to further make the point that racism is alive in international motorsport. This may be a result of the contentious relationship between Lewis Hamilton and Spaniard Fernando Alonso. As former teammates, Alonso accused McLaren, a British team, of showing preferential treatment to Hamilton who is British. Alonso went so far as saying that McLaren was guilty of racism before his departure.

As to be expected, the organizers were quick to remove the offenders and make an apology to Formula 1 and Lewis Hamilton. Bernie Ecclestone’s swift actions should be commended. Racism is deplorable and has no place in motorsports.

I understand having an affinity or a strong dislike for a driver. I may boo a driver because he might win too much, complain about other competitors, or because I dislike the team owner. But I have never disliked a driver because of where he’s from, his religion, or ethnic background. People pick their favorite drivers for many of the same reasons that determine what teams they follow in other sports. It can be as simple as a family member’s influence, meeting the driver in person, or from where the driver came.

Lewis Hamilton handled the pressure of last season beautifully. He managed to put together a stellar inaugural season and is poised to top last year’s successes. The incident in Spain had to be unsettling for the second year driver. However, there were black drivers in America who dealt with racist remarks on a daily basis. Charles Wiggins, Wendell Scott, and other black drivers in history had to endure much more than an inappropriate sign.

Formula 1 has moved quickly to put an end to such activity at F1 sanctioned tracks. Hint to the rest of the racing world: Hit the offending parties in their wallets! Can you imagine a city losing the Super Bowl because of inappropriate remarks made to participating players? Racing has made strides to become more inclusive. I am looking forward to the day when a driver is just a driver. You love him or hate him for who he is and not because of the color of his skin.

Photo of rowdy Spanish fans during testing at Barcelona courtesy of itv formula1

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