The last time F1 and billionaire Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins NFL team and the Hard Rock Stadium, tried to get approval to host a race on a purpose-built track around the stadium, it was met with strong opposition from local residents of Miami Gardens.
The predominantly African-American city residents launched a civil rights lawsuit to stop the race from being held on racial discrimination terms. At the time, the Miami Gardens Mayor, Rodney Harris, was a city councilman and he voted against the race. Now he is mayor and he has teamed with Ross to hold a new vote on Wednesday.
It’s interesting because within F1, the call for the end of racism, Lewis Hamilton’s actions in the paddock last year and pressure by groups within F1, as well as outside of the sport, all called for F1 to take a stronger position for equity and racial justice. The pre-race ceremony that recognizes a moment of silence for ending racism and F1’s new program are all focused on the issue.
The series then decided to engage Saudi Arabia for a race later this season and that was met with claims that Saudi Arabia was sports-washing a dubious human rights record and there was a strong call by some fans and human rights organizations to cancel the race. Lewis Hamilton wasn’t too keen on the idea of hosting a race there.
It has often been discussed that hosting races in nations with questionable human rights or racial injustice is a way these nations attempt to gain clout on the world stage and sports-wash their record on these issues.
With F1’s new commitment to racial issues and equity, I am not quite sure how the new angle being presented to the city council of Miami Gardens will be received.
The proposed memorandum is promoting Miami Gardens as “the first majority African-American city to host a Formula 1 race of the 23 cities around the world that host a Formula 1 Grand Prix.” It also is injecting $5 million to fund community benefit programs and businesses as well as F1-managed STEM programs for local children.
Now all of this may sound like a very positive thing but if I am honest, how is this much different than sports-washing a situation? If Saudi Arabia hosting a race is not a good thing, according to many, how is throwing money and STEM programs at a city any different? Isn’t this the flip side of the coin so to speak?
Last year they recoiled at the lawsuit over racial discrimination but with a new End Racism and We Race as One initiative, they seem to have turned the situation into a negotiation of semantics. Surely the same concerns are there from the local residents but now that F1 is seen as racially sensitive and championing racial equity, then hosting a race at a predominantly African-America city is a promotion point.
It would seem the local folks aren’t too keen to continue this concept. This is from Autosport:
“The Miami Gardens activists’ group, led by former Miami-Dade commissioner Betty Ferguson, say they will continue to fight against the race from going ahead.
“It goes against everything the community stood for,” Ferguson told The Miami Herald. “I don’t know who [the council] think they are representing if they support this resolution but it won’t be the homeowners.”
This isn’t a simple situation and there are many different sides to the conversation. Some locals may want the race, just as Atlanta wanted the MLB all-star game for the $100 million it would bring to the city. In the case of Miami Gardens, would the majority of the hotels and revenue remain in their city? Most likely not but perhaps jobs and other opportunities would. One assumes the groups against the race have considered the financial impact on the community and still find no reason to support it.
A promotion of Miami Gardens as a majority African-American city hosting a race and comparing that to other nations that host races as, well, not as African-American or black, seems to be an interesting brand strategy and I am curious how it will be received. It almost reads as if they are suggesting this is a part of F1’s new racial equity initiative.
We will see how the vote goes and if it passes, hopefully the impact can be a more tangible and evergreen strategy that would benefit Miami Gardens directly and not indirectly, or worse, bring the revenue to Miami while using the Miami Gardens’ racial composition as a way to sports-wash a very sensitive issue with multiple points of view.
Let’s be honest, this is being labeled as the Miami GP, not the Miami Gardens GP and they haven’t even voted yet.