GLOBETROTTER

The parable of the little boy

Little boys like wars. It may not be politically-correct to say it but it is a reality. If you don't buy them toy guns which they crave they will take a stick and the imagination will do the rest. Lego blocks are used not to make houses and dinner tables, they are used to make Apache attack helicopters, tanks and pirate ships.

The other day my eight year old son and I were discussing World War II - which is one of his two favorite subjects (the other being World War I) - and he asked if any of our family members had been in the war. Yes, I replied and reeled off various grandparents and great uncles.

Did anyone get killed? he asked.

No, I said, we were lucky. Great-grandad's house was blown up by a V2 rocket but he was out at the time. And great-uncle Kenneth was captured in Singapore in 1940 and spent five awful years in Changi and never really recovered from it.

A few days later the little boy announced that he would not mind where he lived in the world so long as it was not in Japan. I was appalled. I tried to explain that the war was a long long time ago and that the Japanese are very nice people nowadays.

"Then why do they kill dolphins," he said. "It's mean to do that. Dolphins don't hurt anybody. They are nice."

I explained that not every Japanese person kills dolphins and that there are good people and bad people in every country although sometimes there are people who do things which give a country a bad name. Most of the people in the world just wish to live in peace with enough to eat and a comfortable place. But still there are wars because nations are judged by the actions of one or two decision-makers.

When I stopped to think about it, I was struck by the fact that the same thing is true of sports. Sports are judged by the actions and utterances of a few - and they do not necessarily represent the reality.

The reality in most sports is that the majority of people compete in them not for money nor for glory but because they are passionate about the sport. Anyone who has ever tried to cycle over a mountain or been flattened by a hard tackle in rugby or been hit by a cricket ball knows that sport is about passion. If you don't like it, you don't have to do it.

The reality of every sport is not power nor money but passion and that translates into hard work. In motor racing it is hard work that involves such drive that money could never be enough recompense. The vast majority of those in the sport are there because they love it: be they drivers, team bosses, engineers, mechanics, media or whatever. They love what we do and they do it as well as they can - whatever the job may be. It is a competitive world and sometimes that means friction and conflict but when the passion is there there is always an understanding, the recognition of a passion shared.

But, the scale of the money in some sports, has led to everything becoming very confused. There is so much money and there are so many egos involved and so much mistrust that the important things have sometimes been forgotten. Nothing is more important than the sport itself. The money is there and people may think it the most important thing but when all is said and done the people who really matter are those who would be there if there was no money in the sport. The rest are like bees around a honeypot. When they honey is gone they buzz off elsewhere because they have no passion for the sport. A sport which is run by those without the passion is doomed.

Fortunately this is not the case in Formula 1 although there are times when the image that is given out is wrong. A few important people saying the wrong things can change the way in which the sport is viewed.

Times are hard in the world and now is not the moment for the sport to be giving out the message that there is discord and disunion. It is time for the boys to stop fighting their wars. We are in the run-up to Monaco. It is the time of year when everyone is hoping to sign up a big sponsor for next year and the sport needs to think of its image - which is not something it does very often. It is time for everyone to pull together, take off the blinkers and think about how the sport presents itself to the world out there. It is a time when those with the passion, that who really care, will stay and those who do not will go. It is a time when the sport should be presenting the right image. For a long time now the sport has not really worried about its image. It has been a gravy train and those on it grew to be so rich that they did not care what the world thought.

The meeting of the team principals in Austria was perhaps a significant one for it seems that some of the selfish issues and paranoias were put aside and the talk was of the long-term and what the sport is about and what its image should be. The sport does not want to be seen to be fighting over sponsors, running in and out of the High Court or being projected as the meeting place for sleazy C-List celebrities.

But that is to look at the problem in the wrong way. What is important now is not what the sport does NOT want but rather what it wants. Where is the sport going and how is it going to get there?

There are many different roles to be played and each group involved must try to respect the others and understand what they are trying to do. It is not easy but as long as there is a shared passion there is an understanding.

Most importantly, however, the image that is portrayed must be an honest one: a sport dressed up to be something it is not is a sport which will fail. The sport has to figure out what it stands for and what are its brand values - and for that it must be honest about its strengths and weaknesses and listen to all the voices.

A foolish man builds his house upon the sand. A wise man builds his house upon the rock. And when the rains come, the winds blow and the floods rise it is only the house on the rock which survives.

The rock of Formula 1 is the passion of the racing spirit. The people who will be there when the money is not.

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