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SBD Global/July 28, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Formula One Teams Rule Out Russian Grand Prix Boycott Despite Ukraine Crisis

F1 teams said that "they will race in Russia, despite the crisis in Ukraine and downing of a Malaysian airliner, unless the country's debut grand prix in October is called off or they are ordered not to go," according to Alan Baldwin of REUTERS. Williams Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams said, "Obviously what's going on in Russia and that part of the world is of huge concern to everybody. But we've always said that as a sport we try and disengage from taking a political angle on these things." Sauber Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn, whose team has Russian partners and has "committed to training up Russian reserve driver Sergey Sirotkin, agreed." Kaltenborn: "We have to rely on the governing body and the commercial rights holder. They are the ones who have the responsibility and we will do as they say like we’ve done in the past." F1 teams which have entered the championship "are contractually bound to compete in every race, with 19 scheduled this year, and risk exclusion and heavy fines if they do not" (REUTERS, 7/25).

ECHOS OF BAHRAIN: In London, Kevin Eason wrote "in an echo of the row that engulfed F1 over the controversial decision to hold the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix in the face of global protests, the sport appears to be determined to shut out any questioning of the morals of attending a grand prix in a country standing in the dock of international condemnation." However, the probing from a group of journalists from around the world tested the patience of Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner, who accused them of “boring” the six team principals on the panel with their questions about F1’s "arcane finances and political judgment." Horner said, "This is becoming a very depressing press conference where we are focused on the negativities. ... It is wrong to make Formula One a political subject. We are a sport. We should be talking about what a great [German Grand Prix] was for Lewis Hamilton to come through the grid, yet all we do is focus on the negatives and, it has to be said, it gets pretty boring for us to sit up here and fend off these questions." However, "the questions are unlikely to go away with the threat of further stringent EU sanctions hanging over Russia in the two months before the country’s inaugural grand prix is scheduled to take place" (LONDON TIMES, 7/26). Also in London, Daniel Johnson wrote U.K. Deputy PM Nick Clegg demanded that organizers of the Russian Grand Prix "be stripped of the right to host the race." While Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, was not speaking for the government in his call for the race to be canceled, "it now poses the question as to what Downing Street's view is." Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander had previously said that FIFA "should be making contingency plans for moving the 2018 World Cup due to be held in Russia, suggesting Labour may also be against the grand prix in Sochi" (TELEGRAPH, 7/27).

F1 DEBUT: CNN reported Azerbaijan "will make its Formula One debut in 2016 as the latest venue for the Grand Prix of Europe." The race circuit "will weave through the medieval streets of the capital city Baku." Azerbaijan "had been mooted as a venue for next season" by Ecclestone. However, "this would have pushed the number of races on the calendar above the agreed limit of 20." The event "will become F1's latest street race, joining mainstays Monaco and Singapore already on the roster" (CNN, 7/25). In London, Paul Weaver wrote Azerbaijan’s inclusion "had been originally planned to begin in 2016 but has now been brought forward." Azerbaijan Minister for Youth & Sport Azad Rahimov said, “The deal to bring Formula One racing to Baku is a very significant new chapter in our ongoing success to attract the world’s largest sporting events to our country" (GUARDIAN, 7/25).
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