How the Belgians blew it

Start, Belgian GP 2002

Start, Belgian GP 2002 

 © The Cahier Archive

The Belgian Chamber of Deputies yesterday debated the amendment which might have saved the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps by allowing tobacco advertising until the European tobacco ban comes into force at the end of July 2005 or when the FIA ban on global tobacco sponsorship is introduced in the autumn of 2006. The future of the Grand Prix had become a big issue in Belgium in the days leading up to the vote and the level of attendance (including one deputy who was brought to the chamber in a wheelchair) was 149 of the 150 sitting members.

The amendment put forward was opposed by a variety of Flemish parties supported by the ecologists. The argument from those in favour of the amendment was that some of the smaller parties were voting against the amendment in order to retain their positions in the government in the run-up to the next election. The ecologists were under heavy attack for having recently voted in favour of selling Belgian guns to Tibet, which opponents argued was just as damaging as allowing cigarette advertising in motor racing.

Deputy Robert Denis argued that "if the law does not pass it will be a victory of hypocrisy and an economic disaster for the Francorchamps area" and would also be a massive loss for Belgium and it would throw away the chance that the country has to showcase itself around the world.

Claude Eerdekens argued that the whole business was the result of mischief-making by Flemish politicians and he blamed the ecologists for supporting them. Ecologist Michele Gilkinet replied to the criticism saying that she was "pro-Francorchamps but not pro-tobacco" but caused uproar by saying that she did not believe that the loss of the Grand Prix would have any economic repercussions in the Spa-Francorchamps area.

Daniel Bacquelaine, who proposed the bill, responded that he was "nauseated" by Madame Gilkinet's attitude and condemned it as "hypocrisy".

There were a number of passionate pleas for the event to be saved.

"Must we tell our children that once upon a time Francorchamps was the most beautiful circuit in the world?" asked Andre Smets.

But it mattered not because when it came to the vote 77 deputies voted against the amendment and 72 voted for it. Three votes would have swung the decision but as it is the Belgian Grand Prix is dead and buried - possibly for ever.

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