JULY 1, 2008
Another slap in the face for Silverstone
Grand Prix racing is not a favourite of British politicians, although this was not always the case. Back in 1996, the soon-to-be Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the British GP as a guest of the FIA. There were six other MPs present at the event that year. When Damon Hill won the World Championship a few months later, politicians were quick to congratulate him. Prime Minister John Major and Blair both issued congratulatory statements, while the British parliament voted a motion congratulating Hill and the Williams team and drawing attention to the fact that the motor sports industry in Britain was worth nearly $1.5bn in exports. A year later, however, Blair was in power and there was a scandal when it was revealed that Bernie Ecclestone had contributed $1.7m to Blair's Labour Party before the General Election. There were accusations that the donation had influenced the Labour Party to change its tobacco advertising policies. It was the first major scandal of Blair's government. In the end the party paid the money back to Ecclestone on the advice of Sir Patrick Neill, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Since then F1 has had a difficult relationship with the government and given that Blair remained in office until June 2007 this meant almost 10 years of penance for the sport and Blair's successor Gordon Brown has done little to change the attitude, probably because he too was involved in the original scandal as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Blair's number two, in 1997.
Brown will remain in office until the next general election, which must be held on or before June 3 2010. At the recent local elections Labour suffered its worst results in 40 years, finishing behind even the Liberal Democrats. There is thus little hope that Brown will go to the polls before he has to and so the current attitudes towards the sport will probably continue. There is an argument that things might be different if Ecclestone were no longer running F1, but this is purely speculative.
The British GP is under threat but the government refuses to have any financial involvement in the sport.
Other sports, however, are doing very well thanks to government funding an the news that the government has just given the agency UK Sport, private assurances that it fill a $200m gap in its funding. The Treasury insisted in 2006 that a $1.2bn funding programme for British Olympic athletes should include a 15% element of commercial sponsrship. The National Lottery provided $600m and the government $400m but the search for private funding has proved fruitless and so the government is now kicking in the extra money because "the government is completely committed to supporting our elite athletes in the run-up to London 2012". Who will get the funds depends on what happens in the Beijing Games in August.
There are around 300 members of the British Olympic team and at the last Olympic Games in Athens they collected a total of nine gold medals.