Bloodshed in Bahrain: Bernie Eccleston is not quite the Rupert Murdoch of Global Sport

The Formula one race in Bahrain has once again brought its chairman Bernie Eccleston into the limelight. We look briefly at his entrepreneurial credentials

The British president and CEO of Formula One Management and Formula One Administration is generally regarded as most powerful influence in Formula 1 racing. He retains dominance into his 80s. He has also attracted controversy over alleged illegal political influence.

Former Motor racing competitor.

Forbes addresses the perennially interesting question ‘how did he get as rich as he is?’ revealing a well-beaten path to success for entrepreneurs. Much has been written about entrepreneurs compensating for early-life experiences, and of being motivated to overcome turning possible disadvantageous factors. Factors include a hobby (motor bikes) which turned into a profit (motor bike parts) and later through a personal network in motor cycling and racing where street-smarts prevailed.

A diminutive former car salesman

A diminutive former car salesman, Bernie Ecclestone raced into the billionaire ranks in 2005 after selling stakes in Formula One Group for $2.5 billion. After failing to qualify as a Formula One race driver, he bought a team and brokered a complex series of contracts and TV deals for other F1 teams, taking over most rights in 1997, and turning F1 into a lucrative global franchise. He then began selling the sport’s commercial rights to TV broadcasters, which eventually brought him billions.

Attracted publicity

Ecclestone has attracted publicity for financial support of Labour party for alleged influence for his business interests. Also for friendship and business relationship with another controversial figure Max Moseley, and for lifestyle and provocative statements considered anti-feminist and anti-semitic.

Another Rupert Murdoch?

He accepts (maybe enjoys?) a public image as an all-powerful Rupert Murdoch figure figuring in controversial news stories. He may be less than enthusiastic over media accounts of the life styles of his well-endowed daughters. [I just realised the unintended second meaning to that statement: Ed]

The Bahrain Grand Prix

Last year, the FI race in Bahrain was cancelled after an upsurge in violence. This year a decision was made to reinstate the race [scheduled for 22nd April, 2012] Even more international pressure was put on the FI administration. There was an upsurge in violence which made the decision to go ahead look like a humanitarian and public relations disaster.
Despite claims by F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone and regime officials that the race was safe and the threat of violence “hyped”, the build-up to the contest has been marked by increasingly large anti-government demonstrations that have been put down with teargas, birdshot and stun grenades.

On Friday, [April 21st 2012] activists began what they described as the first of “three days of rage” against Bahrain’s rulers. There were reports last night that police firing teargas canisters were confronting protesters hurling petrol bombs.

The ruling al-Khalifa family has depicted the race — which is expected to draw an audience of about 100 million — as a “force for good” and an event that will unite Bahrain. At least 50 people have died in the unrest since February 2011 in the longest-running street battles of the Arab Spring. Bahrain’s Shia majority is seeking to break the near-monopoly on power by the ruling Sunni dynasty, which has close ties to the west and Saudi Arabia.

To be continued

3 Responses to Bloodshed in Bahrain: Bernie Eccleston is not quite the Rupert Murdoch of Global Sport

  1. Paul Hinks says:

    Tudor – I found this article by The Guardian on Sat 21st April & also found it interesting, thought I’d share the link:

    Ecclestone’s charisma and vision has helped to transform F1 into the money fuelled sport that we know today – we do need Ecclestone ‘types’ – perhaps they’re not to everybody’s liking – but these folks do help motivate change.

    Chapter 6 in Dilemma’s of Leadership 2nd Ed discusses Trust, Conflict and Collaboration – to me these themes map to Bahrain situation; Ecclestone is branded as having self-interest at heart – there is evidence to support this view, but he’s also helped energise F1 into the global phenomena that it is today – I’d argue he deserves some credit & recognition for this achievement too.

  2. Paul, I agree with you point regarding Ecclestone’s visionary leadership and that opportunity plus context require matching leader type. I am F1 fan thanks to Bernies business, vision and marketing apparatus that created a great entertainment and technology fair, speed and overtake gladiators, truly global by design.

    Arguably, the media tends to provide ready-framed views of the situation, suggesting choices but not addressing the actual dilemma. One of the questions I can’t answer is whether choosing not to go ahead with the F1 in Bahrain would have had a better or worse impact on the people of Bahrain.

    I’m very curious to read some comments on how the culture diferences between East and West diminishes our ability to assess this case objectively. We see what we’ve been educated to see and believe what matches our beliefs and values. Consequently, I’d prefer a comment from a local agency such as Al Jazeera rather than BBC in this case, or even better, a debate between them with the aim to provide insight in how to handle atomic entities such as Trust, Conflict and Collaboration in a complex cultural setup we observed in the F1 Bahrain case.

  3. Thanks to Paul and Adrian. As ever, well thought-out points. Good to reflect on the factors which might result in a GO/NOGO decision. These are often nested in wider decisions of course. ‘Leaders we may not like but turn out for the best’ might makre an interesting list…

    Outcomes of decisions are also interesting. But ideas of possible outcomes need to be factored in ‘a priori’ to the reflection over the decision. It wasn’t difficult to predict an outburst of violence in this case, perhaps provoked to draw attention of the media attending the event. But it’s hard to see further into the future.

    Nor is it easy to assess the motives behind behaviours in a given situation although it is possible to build a case from historical evidence.

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