Friday, 3 June 2011

Dictatorships & Sports: F1 and FIFA

At a time when dictatorships around the region have been questioned and shaken to their roots, a funny sort of dictatorship has been challenged; that is one in the sports world.
The Sepp Blatter Comedy of Errors still continues.
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With the cartoon show that was FIFA's re-election of Sepp Blatter or the re-instatement of the F1 race in Bahrain, it's clear to see that despite these organizations are being run like dictatorships no matter how they may appear otherwise.

Enough has been said of the FIFA saga this week so I won't delve further into that but the F1 race coming back on the calendar in Bahrain is a joke.

Yesterday, The Guardian ran a story about how teams would be blackmailed into accepting a decision to have the F1 race in Bahrain go ahead, even if it meant extending the season and cutting the break that teams and drivers get in the close season (click here to read this story).

To quote from The Guardian, they said: "The main reason for that will be financial, given the existence of severe penalties for non-attendance. Bahrain paid £40m for the right to stage the first grand prix of this season, a sum which is split between the teams and the commercial rights holder at 45% (£18m) each. The responsibility for that money would be added to by potential penalties for breaking contracts."

So money talks basically?
Democracy in F1? Dream on.
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However, the fact that Bahrain paid a huge sum of money to host the race and the teams benefitted is fine but is it right to blackmail the teams now and threaten them for a breach of contract when Bahrain originally was the one that forced the postponement of the race earlier this year?  Racing calendars, logistics and everything that's involved in F1 is planned well in advance so when a race like this doesn't go ahead, it disrupts all the planning that the teams undergo.

I'm not debating here whether the morality, political situation or human rights record during and after the protests in Bahrain should play a part in determining whether the race happens or not.  That's not for me to decide but to come back and claim a breach of contract against the racing teams when an event is cancelled at the last minute is just wrong.  I'm sure the racing teams would've spent money in anticipation of Bahrain that they lost when the race didn't happen.

F1 racing has always been a sport where the decisions have been in the hands of an elite few.  The same is true of many other sporting organizations and sadly, attempts to break such monopolies have often failed.  Examples of this can be seen in the world of cricket (the ICL was the forerunner of the IPL which wasn't recognized by major cricket boards or the International Cricket Council), rugby (where Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer had a stand-off to control the sport) or even in F1 itself (when a bunch of teams attempted to start their own rebel sport and failed).
Sepp Blatter says we must respect it. He forgets, it has to be earned.
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The difference that now comes in political dictatorships and those in sports is that in a political dictatorship, you can go out on the streets and revolt.  In a sporting dictatorship, sadly, the same isn't true.  Standing and demonstrating in Tahrir Square in Cairo isn't going to make Sepp Blatter lose any sleep.  Eventually, money talks, member countries are shut up and everything stays as it is.

How long will this continue for?  Who knows.  In the meantime, the credibility of these sports may suffer in the short term but after an exciting race or a stunning exhibition of the beautiful game (a la Barcelona), we move on and accept it.  Is it right?  No.  However, until a way is worked out to rebel in the sporting world, little will change.