BAKU: Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone on Thursday (Friday in Manila) brushed off concerns about rights abuses in Azerbaijan, where the European Grand Prix takes place this week for the first time, asking: “Does anyone know what human rights are?”
The 85-year-old Briton told reporters in the paddock at the new Baku street track that he had no qualms about the event taking place in a country whose government has attracted much criticism for its rights record.
The build-up to Baku’s inaugural race led to calls from many organizations, including Amnesty International, for the sport to take a stand against alleged repression in Azerbaijan.
Asked if he felt F1 could keep a clear conscience about staging a race in Azerbaijan, Ecclestone said: “Absolutely, 100 percent.”
“The minute people tell me what human rights are, you can look at how, why and when it applies. Does anyone know what human rights are?” he added.
Officials from Ecclestone’s F1 organization met representatives of the Sport for Rights campaign in London last Monday (Tuesday in Manila). The group has urged him to speak out against President Ilham Aliyev and his government, and called for the release of political prisoners.
“Yes, we are taking it seriously, of course,” said Ecclestone. “We have been in correspondence and we have assurance from here that they are looking into these things.”
Rights campaigners have accused Aliyev of wrongful imprisonment of journalists and bloggers, freezing financial public resources and restrictive legislation.
Told that journalists have been imprisoned for criticizing the government, Ecclestone said: “So they should… but, it depends what they write…”
According to Sport for Rights, four journalists have died in custody since 2005.
Mixing sardonic humor with bluntness, Ecclestone fended off a series of questions and said he had not had any feedback from the F1 teams.
“I think probably like me they would like to know what human rights are. A lot of people are starving in the world and they have something to complain about,” he added.
Ecclestone added that if F1 avoided countries where there was alleged corruption then there would not be many places left to race in.
PRAISES FOR BAKU ORGANIZERS
And he praised the organizers for their work in creating the circuit, described by Mexican Sergio Perez as the most challenging track of the season.
“When I laid it out in the first place, I was told I was mad,” said Ecclestone. “Trying to get the old city and the new city together — but it looks like it has worked out alright.”
The race will be held on the newly created circuit built against the picturesque backdrop of the old city walls. At nearly four miles (6.4 kilometers), it is the second-longest on the calendar.