I am no fan of Nascar, and I am certainly no fan of Formula 1. I couldn't tell you the difference without doing some quick searches on Wikipedia. Nonetheless, this past week, Formula 1 has been the gift that keeps on giving in a way that only Mark Sanford can appreciate.
On July 4, 2009. Formula 1 boss Bennie Ecclestone dropped a whopper when he said, "democracy hasn't done a lot of good for many countries -- including this one [England]" and "In a lot of ways, terrible to say this I suppose, but apart from the fact that Hitler got taken away and persuaded to do things that I have no idea whether he wanted to do or not, he was in the way that he could command a lot of people, able to get things done."
As you can imagine, the uproar was instantaneous and included a call by the World Jewish Congress for Ecclestone to step down or be fired. Over on this side of the Atalntic, we watched in horror (or amusement) as Mark Sanford kept digging himself deeper and deeper. But Sanford has met his match in Ecclestone. In "apologizing" (which I put in quotes because it was hardly an apology) Ecclestone came out with yet another incredible remark, this time blatantly anti-semitic. About the WJC's calls that he resign, Ecclestone said "If the WJC is influential, it's a pity they didn't sort the banks out."
Of course, one of the oldest anti-semitic canards is Jewish influence over the banks. It cannot be coincidence that that Ecclestone's response to the World Jewish Congress is to suggest they invoke their "influence" by fixing the bank. I seriously doubt he would have had the same thing to say if it was anyone but Jews calling for his resignation.
What makes this truly fascinating is that it follows on the heels of a bizarre incident with Max Mosley. Mosley is the President of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing body of Formula 1 Racing. Mosley's dad was the former leader of the British Union of Fascists, a racist, anti-semitic, pro-Hitler and Mussolini, British political party. Not only that, Mosley was involved in a wierd sex scandal where it was claimed by the tabloid press that he paid prostitutes to re-enact a "Nazi" sexual fantasy. Mosley actually won a lawsuit because while he sexual dilliance invoked sada-masochistic themes, nothing could be called a Nazi-themed. There were similar calls for Mosley to resign. Mosley's biggest backer...Bennie Ecclestone.
I wish I could say that this was an irrelevant occurence. However, Formula 1, like Nascar, is widely popular. Whether we like it or not, prominent leaders in the world of sport have power and influence. Heck, Hall of Famers like Jim Bunning end up in the US Senate (and 1st round busts like Heath Shuler end up in the House). I know the initial reaction is to dismiss it as some kooky guy from European car racing, so who really cares. But we need to stand up to bigotry everythwere and anywhere it rears its ugly head. FIFA, operating all over the world and a ripe body to be exploited by political causes, does a pretty decent job responding to hatred, bigotry and xenaphobia. It would be nice to see Formula 1 follow the same path.