Bernie Ecclestone on Bahrain: “Let’s hope that this all blows away…”

Bernie Ecclestone has given an extraordinary interview to BBC Radio that could turn into a PR disaster both for the commercial rights holder and the sport itself.

Having indicated yesterday that a cancellation of the Bahrain GP looked likely, he took a different view today, saying that his people on the ground there have told him that the situation has improved.

He also said that had there been a decision today, he would not have cancelled the GP2 Asia race.

Ecclestone’s conversation with the BBC’s Dan Roan – who at times seemed to barely believe what he was hearing – is sure to attract wide coverage. It does not paint him in a very good light at a time when many voices are calling for an immediate cancellation.

Asked by Roan for his views, Bernie said: “I haven’t spoken to anybody in the crown prince’s office this morning, but I spoke to our people who are there. And as you know we pulled the GP2 race. It’s the Asian series, so it’s not terribly important, and it doesn’t give a bad message to anybody, and we don’t want to take any chances. And that was yesterday we decided to do that.

“Probably today if we had to make the decision on the information I’ve got, we wouldn’t do that. But anyway it seems as if – they say – it’s quiet, no big problems.

“Now, they’re there. I don’t know if I was there or you were there we’d say there are problems, I’ve no idea. But that’s what our people said. I’m more hopeful today than I was yesterday.”

Asked when there might be a decision, Ecclestone said: “Middle of next week, I suppose.”

Quizzed on the commercial implications, he said: “We haven’t thought about that. It’s not good because TV companies have scheduled to broadcast the race, so it’s better than it happens than not.”

Roan asked about the bad PR the sport might get if it was seen to visit a country where there were issues with democracy.

“It seems as if people thought it was democratic a few weeks ago. Let’s wait and see, because we don’t know what the protesting is really about. We’ve never, ever, ever been involved in religion or politics. We don’t make decisions based on those things.”

In reference to the 1985 Belgian GP – postponed for four months after the track broke up – Ecclestone hinted for the first time that he might be able to find a new date.

“We scheduled that later. We may be able to do the same with this one. I hope we don’t have to do anything, I hope things will just carry on as normal. Obviously some people were killed, nobody’s happy with that, I’m quite sure.

“Let’s hope that this all blows away. In these parts there’s always been skirmishes. Perhaps it’s a bit more than that.”

You can hear it for yourself here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/9401826.stm

44 Comments

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44 responses to “Bernie Ecclestone on Bahrain: “Let’s hope that this all blows away…”

  1. Erm…what the f***???

    A bit of an idiot to suggest the deaths of peaceful people will just “blow over.”

  2. Seb

    I can understand Ecclestone’s need to show that he is willing to stage a race due to the commercial and financial factors involved, but those comments are disgraceful. Absolutely shameful for him, as the cheeif representative, to say that. If the race does go as scheduled, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable about adding myself to the tv viewing figures from now on…

  3. Chris

    He sounds very indecisive, uncertain and hesistant — not his usual evasive and cryptic responses to questions.

  4. Peter G

    Bernie need to keep his mouth shut. He certainly comes out with some stupid statements at most inappropriate times.
    It may be quiet there, according to Bernies people, but, they may be at the track, where there is no activity.

  5. Cliff

    I agree with Bernie when he says that F1 is not a political tool. Once you go down that road it gets messy. However, everything else he said is as if it came out of the mouth of an accountant. Sorry, don’t mean to offend any accountants out there. He’s “quite sure” nobody is happy about people being killed??? Hello-o! Is this guy serious? He really could use a muzzle.

    • Peter Coffman

      I think it’s too late – F1 allowed itself to become a political tool long ago. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be having races in places like Bahrain in the first place.

  6. Seb

    Upon listening to that interview, I’m now utterly convinced that Ecclestone either needs to hire a PR company, or a number of spokespersons to speak to the media and public from now on, or retire. If the newspapers put this on to the front pages rather that the back tomorrow, this could do a lot of harm. He’s known to make quite flippant, ignorant and arrogant comments, but the content and context of everything- EVERYTHING- he has said in that interview is a huge leap too far. If, say, BBC F1’s top guy came out with this trash, his head would be served on a plate by the end of the hour. If Norbert Haug said something as despicable, do you think we’d see him on the grid come the opening race? I think not. Its just totally unbelievable, as you say Adam.

  7. Steve Clark

    “Skirmishes” Does he watch the news? Country after country in the Middle East is/are experiencing an earthquake. Of course the race should be cancelled although I’m embarrassed to say that if it does go ahead I expect I will tune in. Can’t help myself.

  8. Gashead26

    Who does he really think he is?To suggest that the worlds media is merely imagining the situation by saying “our people say there are no big problems..” is just stupidity beyond belief.Proof positive that this dinosaur has no compassion for anybody,and needs to be replaced.Give it up you old fossil,your autocracy has no place in modern society.

  9. James v B

    “We’ve never, ever, ever been involved in religion or politics”, says former major UK political donor. Guess he must say that, or F1 wouldn’t be in China, Turkey, Brazil, Russia, ….

  10. Joe Hadar

    Sorry, F1 may not have a political agenda, or be a “political tool” but like an individual caught in a riot, when it finds itself in a political situation it becomes a player. F1 is part and parcel of western culture. Bernie has been yammering on about bringing the show to new emerging markets. What was it Chrissie Hynde said: when you own a big chunk of the bloody third world, the babies just come with the scenery. I hope Bernie is talking to diplomatic experts and not just depending on his own personal experience.

  11. Graeme

    What did Bernie say that was so bad? He acknowledged that some people have died in a skirmish (which is defined as a brief fight or battle, so quite accurate really); he said GP2 Asia isn’t that important (it’s not); he said he’d been told it was improving but he might not agree if he was there; he confirmed that commercial reasons wouldn’t force them to run the race but it would be better for business if it ran; and he said that no-one complained about the lack of democracy when the race ran last year. All of this is perfectly true, it’s Bernie’s ‘don’t panic’ approach, which is much more valid than knee-jerk reactions to an ever changing situation.

    What shoudl F1 do – leave Bahrain and not return until they have a democratically elected govt? That would be silly.

    And before anyone starts saying how I don’t know what’s going on in Bahrain, I have a very good idea. If you want the real lowdown read NYT writer @NickKristof on Twitter – it’s not pretty.

    All Bernie was saying is he’s keeping an open mind, and if it’s dangerous then the race will be canceled. Nothing more, so chill out.

    • Fred

      Here Here Graham.

      The world needs more sensible people like Bernie who makes decisions on all information, and doesn’t simply react because the public think he should.

      Bernie has been hugely successful in making F1 what it is today, and he has a straightforward approach which everyone who he does business with appreciates. We are seeing this again here. Remember a lot of money comes from Bahrain and even if the race has to be cancelled, it would not be sensible to annoy the Bahrain Crown Prince in the process, by “judging” the way the country is run. Bernie may need his help and money in the future to get more influence in the middle east.

      Regards

      Fred

      • This is nothing to do with the way the country is run – this is about the 1500 or so people who work in F1 being obliged to go into whar is more or less a war zone – at a time when governments all round the globe are saying don’t go, thereby invalidating insurance etc. Talk about missing the point…

  12. F1 Kitteh

    “It seems as if people thought it was democratic a few weeks ago”

    Any boycotters want to dispute that?

    • bosyber

      Well, a government sending in riot police to hammer down people who are protesting does tend to be viewed as less deserving of a badge of good government than one where that is relatively liberal and peaceful for its people, even if there is inequality between different parts of the population, somehow.

      In other words: just last week, the government hadn’t let this escalate to a point where it is clear that they aren’t willing to listen to a big group of people if those people feel strong enough to take to the streets to protest, but rather put them down and pretend nothing happened.

  13. Sarah

    Oh Bernie, PR is not your strong suit is it? And leaving aside all the political implications and how ignorant you manage to sound (getting your news from the Crown Prince is hardly going to give you a rounded story!) saying that the Asian Series isn’t “terribly important” is a sure fire way to alienate a whole load of people!

  14. Tony

    He’s finally lost the plot!
    So out of touch with reality up there in his gilded tower.
    Do you think he has ever gone to a race as a fan? Bought a ticket, walked from a car park a mile or two from the track, bought a track hot dog/burger/beer at track side prices? Had to find somewhere to watch and then do it all again on the way out after less than 2 hours of racing?
    I’m sure if he had we would soon see a change in rules so we got to watch some real racing, but I don’t hold out any chance of that at his age.
    Sorry, but its time for him to go.

  15. Peter

    What a time for a statement. An hour later, police fire tear gas into a hospital! Well done Bernard…

    Have you got cancelation insurnace on your flights, Adam? Time to start claiming your money back…

  16. tom

    shame on you ecclestone!

  17. Le Gazman

    Don’t see a problem with his comments at all. No one was saying Bahrain was undemocratic last week, so whats the problem?

    Other than Bahrain offering shite races every time we go there.

  18. Mon Pen

    Not taking sides but the journalist could have been better briefed.

    “Roan asked about the bad PR the sport might get if it was seen to visit a country where there were issues with democracy.”

    Has he never heard of China?

  19. ronmon

    Face it, Bernie is just as much a tyrant as these Arab princes. He is cut from the same cloth and would use the same tactics against disgruntled teams and fans if he thought he could get away with it. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that he said that he admired Hitler’s management style?

    Those middle east countries have never been democratic and it is unlikely they ever will be. Like Bernie, it is all about the money and having it their own way. That’s it. What a crock of bull.

    • Relax

      Yeah and we are in ‘democratic’ countries and the politicians are sucking dry the money out of us and feeding the banks and multinationals they work for, sending our people to murder poeple in other countries for oil and gas. We are awesome.

      Look in the mirror before pointing the finger.

  20. Rob

    Im definately watching. F1 has nothing to do with whats going on there so why should we not watch the sport we love?

    • Rae

      There are much bigger things going on there than sport, so its completely inappropriate to have to a race against that backdrop. There is more to life than F1.

    • Walter

      Of course they are related. F1 gives Bahrain’s monarchy the aura of legitimacy and fills the coffers of the regime. Bernie may choose to run his race and you may choose to watch, but I won’t.

      • Heiko

        >>”F1 gives Bahrain’s monarchy the aura of legitimacy and fills the coffers of the regime”<<
        Sorry, but thats just ridiculous.

  21. pad

    Well, Bernie is really good at one thing in particular – making money. He makes a lot of it through Formula One races. I’m sure he does not think about anything except the fact that there is something happening that is putting the race at risk.

    He will be trying to overcome this by conversing with the people who can sort it out. He will not be considering that ‘sorting it out’ may involve suppressing political oposition to the ruling classes or sending armed police in to shoot people – that’s for someone else to worry about. He just wants his race to go ahead.

    I’m sure, also, that if his race does not go ahead, then he’ll be claiming compensation from someone (race organisers, teams, etc.). After all, this is business (so Bernie would say).

  22. David Myers

    Has Bernie finally lost it? They should either cancel the race or reschedule it, or bring in an alternative venue (Qatar or Portimao perhaps).

  23. Relax

    Why are you all crying and whining about what he said? He stated facts.
    Instead of believing every propaganda coming from our ‘independant’ news channels who have to provide death, sensation and commercials.

    If this had been in Italy and Monza was on the calendar, you all would be supporting Bernie and telling him to make sure the race happened, come hell or high water.

    But now, it is a muslim/Arab country and things change. What, you think they strated racing there this year?

    None of you were whining about it last year and we all know the same dictators ruled then too.

    So stop the hypocritical blah blah. You too Adam, cheap form of sensationalism, wrote it like an article for the Daily Mirror, was expecting you to use calspock in the end claiming Bernie is a shape-shifting reptilian.

  24. Ben G

    Great interview, Bernie – just before they start shooting people again, this time with live rounds.

    If F1 goes to Bahrain, it will be the biggest PR disaster for the sport for decades.

    As for Bernie’s comment about not being political, does that mean we would have the Pyongyang Grand Prix, if Kim Jong Il shelled out the necessaries?

  25. Richard M

    I am sorry but what Ecclestone said was not that bad despite what people are trying to make out. If there are proper and serious safety concerns to the driver/teams, stewards, media, fans, etc then they should think about not doing it, but they should not go just because of political reasons. I hope the race does go on, the actual track is quite isolated so it is not like it is right in the middle of Manama. There is oppression and violence in a few countries F1 goes to, so if you boycott Bahrain then you have to boycott other races which are under autocratic rule, otherwise F1 is saying that their suffering is not as important as the publisied suffering in Bahrain. F1 is not a political tool or party it is just a race, either going there or not going there is not going to fix their country and the global spotlight is already trained on them which is not going to change with the presence of or lack of a race. By boycotting the race for political reasons F1 will be opening itself up to hypocrisy.

    • Paul Richardson

      Just out of interest, how many F1 hosting countries have had riot police shooting people in the streets during a race, not sure I remember seeing that on ITV or BBC.. unless you refer to the alleged police brutality in UK, Italy, Spain, Germany, Malaysia, etc, etc,
      Bahrain is as westernised as a Middle East country could be, so this episode of violence is very disturbing. A boycott of the race should be carried out if only for the safety of the teams and spectators visiting.

  26. Seb

    Bernie Ecclestone is much at home at Bahrain’s Royal Palace. Just listened to the Crown Prince of Bahrain on a 24 News Channel. The same foul, unreal drivel drooled out of his mouth, just as it did from that of the ‘Supremo’. They’re both a bunch of incompetents, able to move their mouths up and down, but not to actually think and comprehend the significance of the noise rolling out of it.

    We can all say that F1 has nothing to do with politics, and is untouched by outside polemics. However, the reality is is that our sport is very much subject to outside political events. If Bahrain continue as they are, without resistence from the USA or UEA or UN, the race will be forced through according to schedule. Sponsors will complain, so too will broadcasters, but not to the extent of 1985, South African apartheid. So it is up to the FIA and Bernie to decide which direction is to be taken, and I have a strong feeling that unless international politics or contractual issues play a part, they are too weak to do what is best for the sport, the 1000+ people who put the race weekend together, and the lifeless bodies lying in the streets and tear-gassed hospitals of Bahrain.

  27. Paul Richardson

    What an absolute plonker. This man has just proven to the whole world he has a cash register in place of a heart and iced tea in his veins. What a callous and uncaring, unfeeling waste of space. The idea that the image and future of a massively public sport as Formula 1 is in the hands of a greedy bitter old man is preposterous. Its time his grasping little hands were prized off this wonderful sport. How on earth so many can say he is wonderful is beyond me.

  28. Ed

    Tomorrow he’ll probably come out and say, “some of my best friends are protesters”…

    Ridiculous comments from Bernie. Usually I understand that he’s just trying to get some attention for F1 with his comments about shortcuts or whatever, but I think this has gone too far.

    To use a figure of speech, I think Bernie can no longer see the forest for the trees.

  29. Mark J

    That was a poorly worded interview that Bernie made. It seems sometimes that when his brain is only thinking of commercial considerations he goes off making silly remarks like these. Its very inconsiderate of him as he conducts the interview in his nice little secluded luxury apartment in London, that the same people who are bankrolling this Grand Prix are also the ones causing the violence in these protests. These protests are for legitimate reasons for the people and I am sure they are none to happy that while youth unemployment in the country stands at 20% (Source BBC) for such a small nation. The king is happy off spending great sums of money on a motor race. For this reason alone it directly affects the Grand Prix and this is when sport and politics cross over. The race should be cancelled.

  30. Robes

    Meh, no one complains when F1 goes to countries with known human rights issues. We know China has a dubious record where freedom of speech is curbed and torture is used regularly in interrogations.

    Bernie has never been a PR person but I fail to see what has been so disastrous in this interview. As he says, why weren’t people complaining a few weeks ago, or last season?

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish to belittle what is happening in the Middle East at the moment, I hope everything turns out for the better there. However I do think that the political aspect isn’t an F1 aspect.

  31. Harry

    I so wish people would stop all these misinterpretations of what he said
    F1 is a good example of how the world should be, football fans sit in opposite stands and have seperate entrances where as F1 fans all mingle.
    Why not take this wonderful sport out to the world, wherever there is an interest. To deprive the Bahrain citizens of such a good example of how it ought to be is in my opinion playing into the hands of the rulers, I mean turning our back on their plight would weaken their fight not strengthen it. Maybe Bernie is cleverer than you all think and in a way, I hope pressure from a mighty force that is F1 is going to help Bahrains people and next year we’ll be watching the Bahrain F1 from a democratic country
    Let’s be honest about money and Bernie for a second, do you really believe he’d put money over life? I don’t.

  32. Frank

    A question for you Bernie. Does Melbourne need you as much as you now need Melbourne?

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