In case you missed it, American F1 team Haas is having a rough time at the moment. Last week, the squad announced it was parting ways with its title sponsor and sacking one of its drivers. But now, ex-racer Nikita Mazepin says he is launching a non-political foundation to support athletes affected by political issues. Right.
Russian racer Nikita Mazepin was fired last week after Haas severed ties with title sponsor, Uralkali. The firm is owned by Mazepin’s father and it’s as a direct result of that deal that the young driver had his chance in F1.
Despite that, the Russian racer seems to have been caught off guard by his sacking. A move that has been obvious to any onlooker ever since Russian troops entered Ukraine more than two weeks ago.
Following the invasion, public outcry has been widespread and Mazepin’s position has appeared untenable. But that didn’t stop the racer from claiming politics should stay out of sport, perhaps in a desperate attempt to retain his seat?
But now, this political proponent has unveiled plans for a new foundation to support athletes affected by geopolitical sanctions. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounds very political?
During a video conference this morning, Mazepin explained that he wanted to create a foundation that would keep politics out of sport by supporting athletes banned from sport for political reasons.
According to Motorsport.com, Mazepin said:
“I ask the question, is there no place at all for neutrality in sports?
“Does an athlete have a right not to just an opinion, but to keep the opinion out of the public space? Should an athlete be punished for that? And do we want the sports to become just another public square for protests and political debate?”
Yes, Nikita. Yes, we do want the sports to be a space for political debate.
And that is exactly what he is doing via this foundation. A foundation that he has imaginatively named We Compete As One. That’s not to be confused with F1’s own overarching equality drive, We Race As One.
And it’s clear to anyone reading this that the We Compete As One foundation is unequivocally political.
Brought about in response to sanctions placed on Russia, the We Compete As One foundation is a direct means of sidestepping any penalties these athletes may encounter.
Mazepin says the scheme will offer “both financial and non-financial” aid to “athletes who could not compete,” reports Motorsport.com.
Sure, you can feel a twang of sympathy for any athlete that has worked their entire life to compete, only to be kicked out because the country they come from has committed various atrocities. But in many cases, their rise to the top has been funded by the very government that has committed these crimes.
So no, sport cannot be apolitical. Like how music can’t be apolitical, art can’t be apolitical and cinema will always have ties to current events.
No matter how much Mazepin protests, his initial entry to F1 and the ensuing Russia-inspired livery his car sported will always be seen as political. A direct way of sidestepping the ban on Russian flags in sport.
And now this, his swan song as he leaves the sport, will also be viewed as politically-motivated.
But this does bring about a nice cyclical nature to Mazepin’s tenure in F1. The young driver found his footing in the sport thanks to Russian money, but that same funding has ultimately been his downfall.
It seems bizarre that this is what lead to his sacking, and not his record as the only F1 driver to end the season 21st out of 20 drivers. But as Lewis Hamilton once said, “cash is king”.