F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone has assured protesters in Bahrain that he "understands their grievances and is willing to meet opposition figures ahead of the most controversial F1 race of the year this weekend," according to Alan Baldwin of REUTERS. Ecclestone: "I'm happy to talk to anybody about this, as I did before. We don't want to see trouble. We don't want to see people arguing and fighting about things we don't understand, because we really don't understand. ... Some people feel it's our fault there are problems." Ecclestone "has said repeatedly that he has no cause for concern" ahead of a race that had to be cancelled in '11 after an uprising and bloody government crackdown. It went ahead last year "against a backdrop of petrol bombs and teargas." If some of his past comments have "made light of the unrest," Ecclestone made clear this time that "he understood both sides of the argument and was not insensitive to the opposition." Ecclestone said, "We are extremely sympathetic to them. Don't forget, I was the one, when we had the apartheid in South Africa, who pulled the race" (REUTERS, 4/16).
CALLS FOR CANCELATION: The BBC reported that a group of British MPs have "called for the Bahrain Grand Prix to be cancelled amid unrest in the Gulf state." The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Bahrain wrote in a letter to Ecclestone, "We request you cancel the Grand Prix. It is likely to attract as much negative publicity as last year." The letter, written by All-Party Chair Andy Slaughter and signed by 20 MPs, said, "Since April 2012, many more people including children have lost their lives, and the whole country exists in fear and intimidation" (BBC, 4/16). In London, Oliver Brown reported Ecclestone has "likened Bahrain’s anti-government protesters, who on Sunday detonated a car bomb in the capital city Manama, to 'those complaining' about" Margaret Thatcher. Ecclestone risked "enraging activists" with his comparison between their claims of police brutality and left wing campaigners "seeking to disrupt Baroness Thatcher's funeral procession on Wednesday." Ecclestone said, "I don't think the people who are arguing about their position are bad, and I don't think they're trying to hurt people to make their point. We have had all sorts of protesters -- look at those complaining about Mrs. Thatcher. This happens all the time. People use these things when there is an opportunity” (TELEGRAPH, 4/15).
SÃO PAULO MUST IMPROVE: XINHUA reported Ecclestone said São Paulo, Brazil could be taken off the F1 calendar "if the city fails to improve facilities at its Interlagos Grand Prix circuit." Ecclestone has given local officials "an ultimatum to upgrade commercial boxes, event rooms, sanitary areas in addition to the paddock and pit-lane areas" (XINHUA, 4/16).
Scottish Premier League CEO Neil Doncaster "has defended his role in the failure of the 12 SPL clubs to agree to restructuring plans," according to the BBC. He said, "No chief executive is in a position to drive through change against the views of his clubs." Meanwhile, Scotland's former First Minister Henry McLeish, whose reports into Scottish football called for major change, "insists the plans are not dead." He added: "It was a setback yesterday. I don't think it's the death knell for the deal." Doncaster disagreed with the suggestion that "he was at fault for not securing the passage of the plans." He said, "It's not the case that I drive the clubs; it is the other way round" (BBC, 4/16).
ROSS COUNTY DECISION: In Glasgow, Keith Jackson reported SPL Ross County Chair Roy MacGregor Monday night "told how he had no option but to sink the SPL’s plans for reconstruction." MacGregor joked that "he had to be driven out of Glasgow in the boot of a car." However, he was "deadly serious when laying out his reasons for voting 'no' -- and adamant that the other 10 clubs should have done exactly as he did, by listening to the wishes of fans up and down the country." Rival chairmen "were furious" about Monday's collapse. And MacGregor believed that "much of that anger is down to the fact clubs experiencing financial hardship" are now set to lose out on a share of almost £2M ($3.1M) in sponsorship. He said: "It’s going to be difficult to get a sponsor without having one league. As it stands they get around £2M from the Clydesdale Bank so, yes, there is a financial hit for the clubs. I understand that" (DAILY RECORD, 4/16).
MORE DEFENSE: In Edinburgh, Stephen Halliday reported SPL St. Mirren Chair Stewart Gilmour has defended his decision, insisting it was "the right thing to do." Gilmour, in particular, "was the target of criticism by furious" Aberdeen Chair Stewart Milne "after failure to secure the required backing for reform at the summit at Hampden." He said: "I still want to see elements of the reconstruction proposals -- like a single league body -- implemented. But not at any cost." Doncaster said his organization has no "Plan B" in place after the proposals were torpedoed (SCOTSMAN, 4/16).
PLAN B EMERGES: In London, Phil Gordon wrote in the aftermath of the SPL vote, second tier clubs "began to make their escape plans from the Scottish Football League." Hamilton Academical has asked other Irn-Bru First Division clubs to meet on Monday to discuss "the creation of a potential “SPL2.” The middle-ranking clubs are "most affected" by the collapse of the proposed reconstruction. Hamilton is trying to "generate support among the other full-time professional clubs in that division." Livingston, Falkirk and Raith Rovers are "also believed to back an SPL2" (LONDON TIMES, 4/17).
The leading candidate for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, "has been implicated in a series of human rights abuses in his home country of Bahrain where he is a member of the ruling Royal family" (INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL, 4/16). ... The Pakistan Cricket Board "planned to send a group of secret monitors to keep an eye on its cricketers during their May-June tour to England, in an effort to stop players from involving in any scandal" (XINHUA, 4/16). ... The Int'l Cycling Union is "likely to face renewed criticism after it was claimed that Lance Armstrong produced four positive tests for use of banned substances during 1999 edition of the Tour de France rather than just one as previously reported" (London TELEGRAPH, 4/16). ... World Archery has signed a partnership agreement with OlympAfrica for the development of archery in Africa, especially for the youth (WA).