The Ferrari fleet in Formula 1 during the Grand Prix of India placed the coat of arms of the Italian Navy on its race cars. This was the racing team's attempt to assist in the release of two Italian sailors arrested in India for the killing of the local fishermen. The Indians felt the gesture was interference in the internal affairs of the country and demand "sport without politics."
The Navy emblem on the background of the Italian tricolor was placed on the nose cones of the cars of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso. According to the website ferrari.com, this way the team decided to pay tribute to "one of the most prominent organizations" in Italy, and expressed hope that Italy and India would find a solution to the problem with two Italian marines named Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone.
Sailors who served on the tanker "Enrica Lexie", on February 15th of this year, mistook the fishermen in motor boats in the Indian Ocean near the Indian state of Kerala for the pirates and opened fire. Later, the men testified that the fishermen behaved suspiciously and ignored warning shots at the approach to the Italian oil tanker. In the shooting two Indians were killed. The Italians have been released on bail on the condition that they cannot leave the territory of India, and expect the verdict of the Supreme Court. Italy argues that the incident occurred in international waters, so India has no right to jurisdiction. The Italians are likely to appeal the verdict in the international institutions.
The Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi welcomed the team's act. On Twitter he congratulated Ferrari on the initiative to carry the symbol of the Navy at the Grand Prix in India as this would show the sailors that the entire country is behind them. However, the Italian press called him the mastermind behind the event lobbied by politicians.
The reaction of the Indian Foreign Ministry was quite different. Indian Express newspaper quoted the representative of the office Syed Akbaruddin, who said on October 26th that the use of sports events to solve non-sports issues contradicted the spirit of sport. Indeed, the statement that Ferrari respected the Indian authorities did not fit in with the gross pressure on the authorities through such a popular sport as Formula 1 that has millions of viewers at the stadiums and TV screens.
The Government protest was supported by the National Forum of Fishermen of India (NFF). According to the Forum, Ferrari's decision to place the Navy flag on racing cars as a sign of solidarity with the Italian Marines was an insult to the Indian society and a disgrace to the country. The Forum was convinced that this was the initiative of the Italian government.
Head of Management of Formula 1 Bernie Ecclestone distanced himself from the "political" issue, saying that this was not a political organization. He explained that the International Automobile Federation (FIA) in Article 1 of its Charter prohibited any manifestation of political, racial or religious activities. He believes that the issue should be resolved by the National Association of Indian Motorsport and the Federation of Indian Motorsport (FMSCI). It is they who, in his opinion, were responsible for such actions. But the said authorities are likely to be either far from politics, or have received a good reward.
Currently Ferrari fleet belongs to Fiat. Chairman and President Luca di Montezemolo was quick to distance himself from the original plan and shifted the responsibility to the team's headquarters in Maranello. "The Naval tricolor on Ferrari cars at the Grand Prix of India is a tribute to our country," Corriere dello sport quoted him. The president denied the fact that it was placed there for political purposes. For this reason, the team is not going to remove it from their cars. However, this is unlikely to promote a positive decision with the Italian sailors.
Sport, just like art, is highly politicized these days. Sporting events have turned into a war between countries. County's prestige is at stake, and a great deal of money is involved when sports events transform into political ones. Insidentally, the Italians have mastered this art. Silvio Berlusconi created his own political party "People of Freedom" based on the supporters of "Milan." The slogan of the fans of this team - Forza Italia! - became the slogan of the party.
But perhaps the most important political function of sport is the use of major competitions for intimidation of the opponents, political expression and oppressing of political ambition. This is what the Italian authorities tried to do at the Grand Prix of Formula 1 in India.
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