Bernie Ecclestone made decisions — such as hosting races in countries that are accused of human rights violations — during his nearly 40-year tenure as Formula One CEO that sparked some backlash. We now know, though, that one action he took in 1985 seemingly kept F1 from being at the center of an international incident.
Former world champion Alan Jones revealed that Ecclestone paid him to fake sick and miss the 1985 South African Grand Prix to prevent “thousands” of Beatrice Foods employees from going on strike in the United States, according to an expert from his autobiography, via news.com.au. Beatrice, an American company, was the primary sponsor of Jones’ then team, Haas Lola.
Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson had threatened to organize a strike among Beatrice’s African American workers if the car it sponsored competed in South Africa, which was at the height of apartheid. Because the team couldn’t boycott the race due to contractual obligations, Ecclestone reportedly approached Jones the day before with an alternate plan.
” ‘Well, I’ve got a bit of an idea. If you pull up sick and can’t run again this weekend, we’ll give you first-place prize money. Go home and visit Australia,’ ” Ecclestone said, according to Jones.
Jones said the “F1 supremo” explained that if he pretended he was too ill to race, Beatrice would avert any unwanted publicity.
” ‘If the driver falls crook and can’t drive, then the Beatrice car doesn’t race. It’s a force majeure. Jesse Jackson can’t get on his soapbox and say, ‘I forced that company to withdraw,’ and he also couldn’t call a strike because the car didn’t race,’ ” Ecclestone reportedly told Jones.
Although the 1980 world champion’s anecdote spoke to Ecclestone’s leadership abilities earlier in his career, the 86-year-old has been criticized by the sports new owners for failing to adapt to the changing media landscape.
Thumbnail photo via Flickr/Jerry Lewis-Evans
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