Baku - Formula
One supremo Bernie Ecclestone on Thursday 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
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
The build-up to Baku’s inaugural race led to calls from many
organisations, 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?"
Officials from Ecclestone’s F1 organisation met representatives of
the Sport for Rights campaign in London last Monday. 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
Told that journalists have been imprisoned for criticising the
government, Ecclestone said: "So they should... but, it depends what
According to Sport for Rights, four journalists have died in custody since 2005.
Mixing sardonic humour 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."
Ecclestone added that if F1 avoided countries where there was alleged
corruption then there would not be many places left to race in.
And he praised the organisers for their work in creating the circuit,
described by Mexican Sergio Perez as the most challenging track of the
"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 it is
the second-longest on the calendar.