Lewis Hamilton, 2008 F1 world champion, has said he doesn’t find racist abuse aimed at him funny in the least – but he has thanked his UK fans for supporting him through such negativity.
The issue has made the headlines once more in the wake of Hamilton’s championship win, following reports of F1 supporters flocking to abusive websites to criticise him.
Certainly at Brits on Pole we have had a surge in visitors searching on terms like “Hamilton hate” – although they could in fairness have been looking for wider information on the subject and not a chance to join in – and we’ve had to ban a couple of users for making racist comments.
After the season finale in Brazil Bernie Ecclestone, with his usual sure touch, managed to drive the issue even further up the post-championship news agenda with a couple of badly-chosen remarks.
He appeared to suggest that incidents such as the barracking Hamilton received Barcelona Grand Prix earlier this year, and the existence of abuse sites, were nothing more than a joke and should be treated as such.
But Lewis didn’t agree, saying: “I didn’t see it as a joke. It’s something that happened but it is in the past.
“What’s more important to me is that I had a lot of support, especially from UK fans. As long as I have my country behind me, it makes me very proud.
“I’m proud to see my fellow countrymen holding up the flag. All the other stuff I need to put behind me.”
“Overt, old-school racism”
Ecclestone’s comments led the anti-racism group Kick It Out, which focuses on football and other sports, to condemn him.
It said: “What Bernie Ecclestone said is shocking and disgraceful. In his position in Formula One, and with the sway that he holds, for him to come out and say this… is very worrying and short-sighted.
“You would expect Ecclestone to be protective of someone like Hamilton and use his authority to chastise these supporters.
“This will upset a lot of people, particularly young mixed-race and black males who are looking up to Hamilton and what he has achieved.
“Fans blacking up in the stands was overt, old-school racism and that is still fresh in the memory. People are entitled to support who they want but that is no reason for racist abuse, which this clearly was.”
Ecclestone has responded to this and other criticism by clarifying his remarks, saying: “I meant they were a joke, clowns. I’ve spoken with Lewis’s dad Anthony and he understands, everything’s fine.
“I’ve dealt with people all over the world for many years and I have no feeling with regard to religion, race, colour, creed or whatever.
“People should remember I was the one who pulled F1 out of South Africa because of apartheid, so no one can say I am against black people.
“I deal with Lewis and his dad all the time. We are good friends and I even play cards with Anthony. I have even had many black people come up and shake my hand and thank me for helping Lewis get into F1.
“If I had had the opportunity, I would have got those guys, dragged them into the paddock and asked them to explain themselves and say the things they were apparently saying directly to Lewis.
“Anyone who does this sort of thing against Muslims, Jews or whoever, are third-rate people.”
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