F1

Racist antics from fans draw sharp rebuke

Racist antics from fans draw sharp rebuke

The International Automobile Federation (FIA), Spain's motorsport federation (RFE), the Circuit de Catalunya and Lewis Hamilton were among those issuing statements Monday in the wake of racist behavior by Spanish fans at a weekend test by...

The International Automobile Federation (FIA), Spain's motorsport federation (RFE), the Circuit de Catalunya and Lewis Hamilton were among those issuing statements Monday in the wake of racist behavior by Spanish fans at a weekend test by Formula One teams in Barcelona, Spain. British Minister of Sport Gerry Sutcliffe promised to complain to the Spanish government.

Fans.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The FIA, governing body of Formula One, condemned fan behavior and sought a report to explain incidents that included fans booing and jeering, and blackening their faces and wearing apparel bearing offensive slogans toward Hamilton, 23, McLaren Mercedes' driver of African Caribbean descent.

Hamilton's rookie season with the British team last year included a fractious relationship with then teammate double world champion Fernando Alonso, who is Spanish. Alonso left the team after one year of a three-year contract. He now drives again for Renault.

"The FIA is surprised and disappointed at the abuse directed at Lewis Hamilton," an FIA spokesman told reporters. "Abuse of this kind is a clear breach of the principles enshrined in the FIA statutes, and any repetition will result in serious sanctions."

The RFE wrote in its statement, "The federation wants to show its absolute repulsion at these incomprehensible incidents and demonstrate its support and solidarity for the McLaren team and especially their driver, Lewis Hamilton. This type of idiots that are confusing sporting rivalry with violence should be aware that the Federation has a zero-tolerance approach to this issue."

Sutcliffe said he would write the FIA for an explanation of what action will be taken, and that he will write to the Spanish sports minister to indicate his nation's concern about racism suffered by Britons in Spain.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Hamilton said he felt sad, "I am in love with this country, especially the city of Barcelona and this circuit. The people of Spain have always been warm to me. It has not been pleasant."

The FIA credited track management with adding security and taking down offensive banners during the weekend that attracted record numbers of fans. As many as 55,000 fans attended three days of testing with 25,000 fans, a single-day track record for testing, showing up Sunday.

The statement by circuit management wanted it acknowledged that the majority of fans attending testing were respectful and well-behaved.

Hamilton is the first driver of color in F1. The Spanish fans' actions are unprecedented in more than 50 years of FIA-sanctioned world titles in the sport.

Racist fan displays are not unknown elsewhere in Spanish sport, however. Black players on England's senior and junior football teams that played friendly matches in Spain in 2004 were targeted with racist chants. Then Arsenal player Thierry Henry, now at Barcelona Football Club, was insulted by Spanish national coach Luis Aragones. Club football continues to suffer such behavior. Barcelona player Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon has threatened to leave the pitch when subjected to racist chants during La Liga matches. Referees have stopped La Liga matches to end racist taunting. Clubs and coaches have been assessed fines by football's sanctioning bodies but incidents continue.

The Circuit de Catalunya statement said such incidents will not be tolerated and that track managers will work with local police to develop strategies to confront racist behavior.

The FIA has indicated the continuance of racist fan behavior could lead to removal of F1 races from Spain. Races are scheduled for Barcelona and Valencia this season. The Circuit de Catalunya is set to play host to the Spanish Grand Prix on April 27. The European Grand Prix, on a street course in Valencia, is scheduled for Aug. 24.

Two more F1 test sessions are scheduled for Spanish tracks before the season begins March 16 in Australia.

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