Over the white line: Footballers avoid the Hamilton treatment in Seville

By Andy Darley

CalendarFriday, February 13th, 2009

 
 

In a news-packed week when Formula One and several other racing series began gearing up for the start of their new season, the main item to catch our eye was football-related. But bear with us.

The England team had an engagement to play a friendly in Seville on Wednesday. Followers with long memories may recall that players Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were subjected to an outrageous display of racist chanting from fans there when the teams met in Madrid in 2004.

Fast-forward a year and the next victim of racism in Spanish sport was iconic French international Thierry Henry, the subject of deeply unpleasant remarks by team manager Luis Aragones who later claimed that referring to Henry’s ethnicity had been a valid means of motivating his players.

The Spanish Football Federation took this so seriously that they fined Aragones the equivalent of a day’s pay.

Most of this site’s visitors will probably recall the racism that Lewis Hamilton experienced from a small number of fans at the Barcelona circuit during testing in 2008, to which Spanish drivers Fernando Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa responded by saying that it was insignificant and a one-off.

And so we arrive in 2009 where England are set to play a friendly against Spain. (A match they eventually lost 2-0.)

England captain John Terry said before the match: “If it gets as bad as last time, the referee would have to step in and make a decision. If he decides to lead both teams off the field, we’ll have to support that. It’s not nice, but I’m fully behind my team and my players. If any one of the referee or players decide that, we’ll follow suit.”

Fortunately no such action was needed. England fielded a side that included both Cole and Wright-Phillips as well as David James, Glen Johnson and Emile Heskey – but experienced no repeat of the 2004 problems.

Excellent news – it would be good to think that the tide is turning and a wider consensus is growing that racist behaviour in sport is deeply offensive wherever it takes place.

This is not to try to stake out the moral high ground, as English fans are still regrettably quite capable of handing it out. And not just to black players – time spent at any Tottenham Hotspur fixture, home or away, will be a sharp lesson in the anti-semitism alive and well on the terraces.

But it does remind us that all might be fair in love and war, but not in sport. And, if overt racism does happen, it should be tackled and never dismissed as insignificant or a one-off.

So, good for John Terry – and that’s not a phrase we find ourselves uttering very often.

Here are some of the other racing and automotive-related items we read this week:

  • It’s not just Formula One that’s finding things tough – the tin-tops are being forced to park up at the side of the track while the battle to find sponsors goes on. An investigation by the BBC’s Kevin Connolly points out that advertisers have always loved NASCAR thanks to the clear demographic profile of its audience: “It is a vehicle for selling everything from whiskey and beer to cheese-flavoured crackers and indigestion tablets – at least it always has been until now. Car sales have plummeted in the US in recent months and the leaders of the big three auto-makers have been exploring the chances of a federal bailout. So can they afford to keep pumping dollars into this money-guzzling sport, when those dollars might come from the American tax-payer?” As you may guess, the answer’s a firm ‘no’ – read the rest of this fascinating article here.
  • The ‘lost Bugatti’ – an immaculate car with a perfect provenance dating all the way back to BRDC founder and Le Mans winner Earl Howe – sold for €3.4 million, comfortably close to the expected price. Although those spoilsports at Bonhams haven’t revealed where and to who…
  • Uncomfortable news is emerging from the investigation into the death of Colin McRae at the controls of his helicopter two years ago. The routine Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report into the tragedy found no cause could be positively determined – but did reveal that his pilots’ licence had expired two years previously. It also said the rally driver had been “undertaking a demanding manoeuvre” prior to the crash. The parents of six-year-old Ben Porcelli, who also died in the crash alongside McRae’s son Johnny and family friend Graeme Duncan, said it was evident that “unnecessary risks” were taken. Read full story here.
  • Louise Goodman is now an ambassador for Go Motorsport, an organisation that aims to get fans like you and us off our backsides where we sit complaining about the quality of the Formula One coverage, and actively involved in the sport. And we can’t think of a better person – good luck in your post-ITV1 career, Lou!
  • Wanna be a racing driver? Play with the new Donington Park track simulation courtesy of the BBC here…
  • Ron Dennis has gone from zero to hero in the eyes of the FIA – he’s been to Paris and collected a prestigious Palme d’Or award. As James Allen says in his blog, who would have thought it, eh? But Lewis Hamilton has topped him with something far more desirable – a gold Blue Peter badge. Now he must truly have no more dreams left to achieve… Come on, you cynics! Who could watch this film and not be charmed by the guy? Guess it’s too much to hope that he’ll be wearing it on his overalls…
  • And finally – we know the Red Bull vid of Sebastian Vettel explaining how the new RB5 meets the 2009 technical regs has done the rounds already – but it’s the best explanation we have seen yet, so it appears alongside this post.

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