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GP Week : Issue 196
18 GPWEEK.com // 18 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: On the Monday following the us Grand Prix, Bernie ecclestone made a seemingly contentious remark that far from being damaging for Formula One, the trial which has seen him arraigned for bribery was actually “good for the sport”. Speaking with Sky television, Bernie clarified his remarks by saying “it’s good because a lot of facts come out of it” . One glaring fact being that Ecclestone plainly admitted to paying Eddie Jordan, Alain Prost, and Tom Walkinshaw in the region of $10 million each to ensure that their teams would sign the 1998 Concorde Agreement, a document that would dictate the ‘haves and have not’s’ in the sport for the next decade. While the trial may be more about a manipulation of insider trading towards CVC in order to retain his influence over the sport, the ancillary evidence that has come to light could prove to be significant in how the sport is run in future – with or without Ecclestone. After conceding that he had paid large sums of money to team owners in exchange for their signatures, Ecclestone’s ribald response was one of a man who felt he had done no wrong, and as such, Bernie is justified in thinking that way. Anyone arguing other wise is probably just being naïve: attempting to further address the issue from a wider perspective would be even more foolhardy. After all, even American presidents have resigned and/or been impeached over phone-tapping and extramarital affairs, yet there has been a notable lack of convictions for corruption in sport. FIFA, football’s governing body, came under fire this year when members of their executive committee were accused of paying and accepting bribes, primarily with regard to the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. But such matters rarely come to light on their own. Just as Ecclestone’s trial resulted from the trial and conviction of German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, current FIFA president Seb Blatter is currently being sought out for “wrong doings” by disgraced Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed bin Hammam. That Hammam received a lifetime ban from FIFA’s Ethics Committee – for “conflicts of interest” – is sufficient explanation for his attempts to discredit Blatter. In 2000, former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje and various other cricketers were investigated for match-fixing, but inquiry commissions in both South Africa and Pakistan merely resulted in bans, fines, and the odd reprimand. Ten years later, however – and for the first time in the history of the sport – a London court jailed three Pakistani cricketers for up to a year on charges of spot fixing, or fixing a particular element of a game, such as a wide delivery. In an ironic twist, the now defunct News of the World – itself shut down for unethical practices – provided evidence for the sentencing. That the architects of 2008’s ‘Crashgate’ (where Nelson Piquet Jnr deliberately crashed during that year’s Singapore Grand Prix to give teammate Fernando Alonso a strategic advantage) walked away with bans that were subsequently overturned in a settlement with the FIA now seems rather mild in comparison. Business and sport have always had an uneasy relationship. Salary caps and regulation of the way dealings are handled might be antithetical to the concept of business acumen, but paying bribes to ensure teams sign an agreement governing the rule of the sport and the division of its financial spoils would induce outrage in most other sports. Correspondingly, Ecclestone’s admission that he paid for signatures must seem scandalous to the non-F1 world. The challenge now is how the issue is dealt with. If Ecclestone is found guilty of facilitating insider trading with regard to CVC’s acquisition of Formula One, then he will be fired, according to CVC co-founder Donald Mackenzie. But should the court determine that more of Ecclestone’s dealings were illegitimate, CVC could find themselves faced with a new Concorde Agreement littered with legal booby traps. It would make for an intriguing situation. Attempting to reign in the dirty business that has been a necessary evil in preventing competitive factions from destroying themselves is no easy task. But it could prove to be an important milestone in re-establishing the sporting ideals held by millions of fans that are so often overlooked by those in charge in their pursuit of the almighty dollar It’s a lofty notion, and one most often held by those with a lot less to lose than the people running the sport. TRIAL? BUY? OR DEAL? OPINION OPINION TRENT PRICE Race Editor