Motor racing-Red Bull and Verstappen condemn abusive fan behaviour

(Reuters) -Circuit owners Red Bull and their world champion Max Verstappen joined Formula One on Sunday in condemning reported sexist, racist and homophobic behaviour by spectators at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton said earlier on Instagram he was “disgusted and disappointed” by what had happened at the Red Bull Ring.

Formula One issued a statement saying it had been made aware some fans had been subject to “completely unacceptable comments” by others in the crowd and such behaviour would not be tolerated.

“We take these matters very seriously, have raised them with the promoter and event security, and will be speaking to those who reported the incidents,” the Liberty Media-owned sport added.

The race is hugely popular with Verstappen fans, mostly Dutch, letting off orange flares and cheering the championship leader who has won at the rural circuit four times in five years.

There have been reports on social media of drunken male fans harassing female spectators, of homophobic chants and racial abuse.

Verstappen won Saturday’s sprint race and started Sunday’s grand prix on pole position but finished second to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“These things shouldn’t happen,” said Verstappen afterwards. “I read a few shocking things. That’s clearly not OK. I shouldn’t even need to say this. There should be a general understanding that these things shouldn’t happen.”

Red Bull boss Christian Horner called for a swift response from the authorities.

“There is no place for it in racing or society as a whole,” he added. “We value inclusion and want a safe space for fans to enjoy our sport.”

Mercedes driver Hamilton, who battled Verstappen for the title last year and condemned fans who cheered his qualifying crash on Friday, spoke out before and after the race.

“Disgusted and disappointed to hear that some fans are facing racist, homophobic and generally abusive behaviour at the circuit this weekend,” said the Briton, the sport’s sole Black driver.

“Attending the Austrian Grand Prix or any GP should never be a source of anxiety and pain for fans and something must be done to ensure that races are safe spaces for all.”

Hamilton urged anyone witnessing such abuse to report it to circuit security.

“We cannot sit back and allow this to continue,” he added.

Speaking later, he said it was shocking to know fans were suffering because of who they chose to support.

“It’s crazy to think that we are experiencing those things still in 2022,” he told reporters. “It just highlights that it is still an issue all over and it comes down to education and ignorance.

“It shouldn’t matter (about) your gender, your sexuality, the colour of your skin. It should just be everyone here to have a great time.”

Ferrari also spoke out on Twitter, saying “there is no room for abuse either verbal or physical against any group of people in sport.

“Therefore we stand together with @F1 in stating that this behaviour is completely unacceptable.”

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis)

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