Max Verstappen has stated Nelson Piquet is "not a racist" but condemned the Brazilian's "very offensive" slur towards Lewis Hamilton.

The former Formula One champion has faced backlash after an interview emerged following last season's British Grand Prix in which he was alleged to have used a racial slur in reference to Hamilton, prompting widespread criticism across the F1 paddock.

Verstappen has condemned the comments from Piquet, which he said were "very offensive", but he defended the character of the 69-year-old, who is the father of his partner Kelly.

"I've spent a bit of time with Nelson, and he's definitely not a racist, and he's actually a really nice and relaxed guy," he told reporters on Thursday.

"The statement he released, you can see the word in two ways, but I think it's still better not to use it.

"It's not only about that word, using offensive language to anyone, any colour, is not correct. That's to anyone in the world, not just to Lewis specifically.

"I think he realised it was probably not the correct word to use, and clearly it is not.

"It can be interpreted in two ways, and of course people pick up on the bad side and of course it gets really blown, I think, out of proportion.

"I know Nelson personally and people of course label him as a racist now, which I don't think he is, but I fully agree that you cannot use these words."

It has widely been reported F1 will now ban Piquet from the paddock, but Verstappen added he did not feel that would be the correct move.

"When you ban people, you are actually not helping the situation," he said. "You're not talking.

"You have to communicate. It's really important, because if you just ban, it's not helping what you're trying to enforce."

Lewis Hamilton has slammed Bernie Ecclestone's support of Russian President Vladimir Putin and declared he is "not with the times."

Ex-Formula One supremo Ecclestone stated during an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Thursday that he would "take a bullet" for “first-class person” Putin.

When it was put to Ecclestone that thousands of innocent people have been killed in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, he replied “it wasn't intentional.”

The 91-year-old also said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should have done more to stop the ongoing war.

Ecclestone’s comments come during a grim week for motorsport, with Nelson Piquet having been condemned for a racist comment made about Hamilton and Red Bull axing reserve driver Juri Vips for a racial slur he used in an online streaming session.

Ecclestone also declared seven-time F1 champion Hamilton should be "happy" that he received an apology from Piquet and ought to have "brushed aside" the Brazilian’s racist slur.

Hamilton responded by referencing Ecclestone and Piquet as "older voices", declaring they have "nothing positive" to contribute.

"We push for action. There needs to be some accountability. What is [the platforms'] goal? We don't need [these voices] anymore," he said during a news conference.

"To hear it from someone who ultimately believes in the war, the killing of millions of people? I can't believe it. They have nothing positive to contribute to where we want to go.

"I have always tried to take the higher road and be respectful. It ties back to - why do we give them a platform? They are not with the times. They are not willing to change. Microaggression in today's world is not healthy."

Sebastian Vettel was among those who spoke out in support of Hamilton in Thursday's media session, addressing the abuse that the British driver has faced throughout his career.

"I think it’s more than just the recent, it’s what he and his family has been through his entire life," he said.

"The abuse was wrong and it was great to see such a response from the F1 community on the matter and towards Lewis.

"There shouldn’t be any room for these kinds of comments. It doesn’t help when there are still these things out here and using inappropriate language. 

"It is important to talk about it because it won’t be gone overnight and we have a responsibility to try and address these issues.

"Kindness matters and people matter. It was bad to see what was going on."

Bernie Ecclestone has sparked outrage by declaring he would "take a bullet" for Vladimir Putin and saying Volodymyr Zelensky should have done more to stop the war in Ukraine.

Ex-Formula One supremo Ecclestone on Thursday described Russian president Putin as a "sensible" and "first-class person", who has made "mistakes" like "a lot of business people."

When it was put to Ecclestone in an interview on ITV's Good Morning Britain that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has resulted in thousands of innocent people being killed, Ecclestone replied that "It wasn't intentional."

The 91-year-old also stated that he had not spoken to his "friend" Putin since Russia started the invasion of Ukraine in February.

"I'd still take a bullet for him [Putin]. He's a first-class person." said Ecclestone.

"Unfortunately he is like a lot of business people, certainly like me, we make mistakes from time to time."

He added: "It wasn't intentional. Look at the times America has moved into different countries which has nothing to do with America. Actually in America it's their business, they like wars because they sell a lot of armour so it's good for them."

Ecclestone also claimed Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, ought to have made more of an effort to engage with Putin.

He said: "I mean, the other person in Ukraine, I mean his profession I understand, he used to be a comedian and it seems he wants to continue that profession because I think if he had thought about things he would have definitely made a big enough effort to speak to Mr Putin, who is a sensible person and would have listened to him and could have probably done something about it."

Ecclestone added: "I'm quite sure if Ukraine would have wanted to get out of it properly they could have done."

Asked about the Russian Grand Prix being removed from the calendar and Russian drivers from being banned, Ecclestone replied: "I'm not in the position now to have done anything about that.

"I'm not sure I would have stopped that, and I certainly now wouldn't, and I think it's wrong, to stop Russian athletes, including obviously drivers, in taking part in their sport.

"They didn't get involved in this in the first place. They shouldn't be punished."

Nelson Piquet has apologised to Lewis Hamilton for his "ill-thought-out" comments, although the three-time Formula One champion denied his words were racist.

Media outlets in Brazil have this week highlighted an interview conducted with Piquet following the 2021 British Grand Prix, with the 69-year-old alleged to have used racist language when assessing the collision between Hamilton and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

Piquet's daughter, Kelly, is world champion Verstappen's partner.

Mercedes have come out in support of their man Hamilton – F1's only black driver – as have several rival teams and F1 itself, with the series reportedly set to ban Piquet from its paddock for life.

But the Brazilian, while apologising, has said his comments were mistranslated.

"I would like to clear up the stories circulating in the media about a comment I made in an interview last year," he said in a statement.

"What I said was ill-thought-out, and I make no defence for it, but I will clarify that the term used is one that has widely and historically been used colloquially in Brazilian Portuguese as a synonym for 'guy' or 'person' and was never intended to offend

"I would never use the word I have been accused of in some translations. I strongly condemn any suggestion that the word was used by me with the aim of belittling a driver because of his skin colour.

"I apologise wholeheartedly to anyone that was affected, including Lewis, who is an incredible driver, but the translation in some media that is now circulating on social media is not correct.

"Discrimination has no place in F1 or society, and I am happy to clarify my thoughts in that respect."

Hamilton has been active on his Twitter page since the reports emerged.

"It's more than language," he posted. "These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport.

"I've been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action."

Red Bull have terminated the contract of their test and reserve driver Juri Vips after he allegedly used racist language during an online gaming stream.

The Estonian, who races in Formula 2 for Hitech Grand Prix, was suspended last week following  incident broadcast live on Twitch.

On Tuesday, Red Bull announced that the 21-year-old had been sacked.

A statement from the Formula One team read: "Following its investigation into an online incident involving Juri Vips, Oracle Red Bull Racing has terminated Juri's contract as its test and reserve driver.

"The team do not condone any form of racism."

Vips is highly rated within the young driver ranks and was seen as a leading contender for a seat with AlphaTauri, but was leapfrogged in the pecking order by Yuki Tsunoda following a coronavirus-disrupted 2020 campaign.

He drove for Red Bull in the first practice session at last month's Spanish Grand Prix and was likely to get further opportunities this season due to F1 regulations that promote the use of young drivers.

The sacking of Vips follows condemnation from Formula One and Red Bull towards former driver Nelson Piquet, who allegedly used a racial slur towards Lewis Hamilton last year.

A racial slur allegedly used by Nelson Piquet towards Lewis Hamilton has been condemned in statements from Formula One and Mercedes, following significant backlash towards the former world champion.

Reports in Brazil have highlighted an interview conducted with Piquet following the 2021 British Grand Prix, where the 69-year-old allegedly used racist language when assessing the collision between Hamilton and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

That collision was one of a number between the two title rivals last season and led Verstappen to retire from the race, with Hamilton going on to secure victory.

Footage alleges that Piquet used a racial slur towards seven-time world champion Hamilton, which has led both F1 and Mercedes to issue statements condemning the language – although both have faced social media backlash for not identifying Piquet.

The statement from F1 read: "Discriminatory or racist language is unacceptable in any form and has no part in society. Lewis is an incredible ambassador for our sport and deserves respect."

"His tireless efforts to increase diversity and inclusion are a lesson to many and something we are committed to at F1."

Mercedes stated: "We condemn in the strongest terms any use of racist or discriminatory language of any kind.

"Lewis has spearheaded our sport’s efforts to combat racism, and he is a true champion of diversity on and off track.

"Together, we share a vision for a diverse and inclusive motorsport, and this incident underlines the fundamental importance of continuing to strive for a brighter future."

England star Moeen Ali admitted he would be open to joining Yorkshire, but not as a "publicity stunt" following the ongoing rebuild at Headingley after the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal.

Moeen has played for Worcestershire for 15 years and has captained the side, but his contract expires at the end of the season.

The 34-year-old has also made his intentions to return to Test cricket with England clear, announcing he was "officially unretired" after a conversation with new coach Brendon McCullum.

Yorkshire are reportedly interested in the all-rounder to bolster their white-ball side and County Championship outfit.

Widespread change is still ongoing at Headingley, with chairman Kamlesh Patel, director of cricket Darren Gough and coach Ottis Gibson appointed to oversee improvements.

The changes came after Rafiq suffered racial harassment and bullying while at Yorkshire, which was eventually brought to light and taken in front of a parliamentary select committee last November.

The former off-spinner also accused his former club and England of being institutionally racist, with several high-profile figures at the county resigning or being dismissed over the handling of the allegations.

Moeen insists that a move to Yorkshire would only be for "cricketing reasons" as he discussed his future.

 

"This is my last year at Worcester. I'm talking to them, I'm talking to other counties. I do love playing for Worcester, I've been there 15 years now," Moeen told BBC's Test Match Special.

"I moved from Warwickshire and they obviously helped me develop my game, play for England, but when the time comes I'll make a decision.

"I think Yorkshire are doing a good job and will continue to do that. I don't think they need to sign me to make it a publicity stunt, almost. If I ever left, it would be for cricketing reasons."

Nick Kyrgios said he was racially abused by a spectator during his semi-final with Andy Murray at the Stuttgart Open on Saturday.

Murray won the match 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 to advance to the final, where he will play Matteo Berrettini on Sunday.

However, Kyrgios had greater concerns as he took to Instagram afterwards to say he was called a "little black sheep" by someone in attendance.

"When is this going to stop? Dealing with racial slurs from the crowd?" he wrote.

"I understand that my behaviour isn't the best all the time – but 'you little black sheep', 'shut up and play' – little comments like this are not acceptable. When I retaliate to the crowd, I get penalised. This is messed up."

Meanwhile, Murray's win saw him reach his first tour-level final on grass since 2016.

The three-time major winner upset Stefanos Tsitsipas in the previous round – his first win over a top-five opponent in six years – and followed that up against Kyrgios with another impressive performance.

"A lot of ups and downs, but I kept going and kept working and finally managed to get to another one. I am proud of the effort I have put in," Murray said after securing the win.

He moves up to 47th in the live ATP rankings – the first time he has been in the top 50 since May 2018 – and his clash with Berrettini will be his 70th career final.

"You're always battling yourself as well as the opponent, it's one of the difficult things about individual sports," he added in relation to Kyrgios' frustrations during the game.

"Nick has the potential to be one of the best players in the world, there's absolutely no question about that. But he obviously got very frustrated in the second set and made it a lot easier for me.

"I'm happy to be in the final. I've played well this week and I've got a great opportunity against Matteo tomorrow."

Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan promised to support England and take the knee on Tuesday after Hungary fans jeered the action on Saturday.

England fell to a surprise 1-0 defeat in their Nations League Group A3 opener after Dominik Szoboszlai's second-half penalty at the Puskas Arena, the same Budapest venue where some England players were subjected to racial abuse in September.

Hungary were supposed to play the fixture behind closed doors after racist behaviour at Euro 2020 last year, but children accompanied by some adults were allowed to attend as a crowd of 35,000 watched on.

There were boos when England players took the knee prior to kick-off, with Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate subsequently expressing his confusion and dismay at the pre-match response.

"The first thing is that is why we do it [take the knee], to try to educate people around the world. I have no idea why people would choose to boo that gesture," Southgate told Channel 4 after the game.

England next head to Germany, who played out a 1-1 draw with Italy in their opener, and Gundogan vowed to support his opponents by taking the knee.

"We will go down on our knees together with the English because we want to support this whole initiative," Gundogan told reporters at Monday's pre-match news conference.

"We did this last year at the Euros and, of course, we will do it tomorrow too. I'm used to that from the English league, where we do it almost every match, so it's nothing new for me.

"We talked about it inside the team and we will support the opponent."

Gareth Southgate was perplexed as to why Hungarian children booed England players when they took the knee before the Three Lions' shock Nations League defeat on Saturday.

Dominik Szoboszlai's second-half penalty gave Hungary a shock 1-0 victory at the Puskas Arena.

The League A Group 3 game was supposed to be played behind closed doors as punishment for racist behaviour in the same stadium during Euro 2020 last year.

Yet children were allowed to attend the game and a crowd of 35,000 watched England's record 22-game unbeaten run come to an end in Budapest.

There were boos when England players took the knee prior to kick-off in the same stadium where some of Southgate's players were subjected to racist abuse during a World Cup qualifier in September.

England manager Southgate told Channel 4: "The first thing is that is why we do it [take the knee], to try to educate people around the world. I have no idea why people would choose to boo that gesture.

"I think very often, young people especially, they can't know why they are doing it really, so they are being influenced by older adults. The UEFA decision [to allow people into the ground], that is for other people to decide.

"I think we've made our stand as a team, everybody knows what we believe and what we stand for. I think tonight, I've got to focus on the football. When you lose, you can't be talking too much about other areas because I think that would be a lack of responsibility for the result."

Southgate said there could be no excuse for a substandard display from England, although he questioned referee Artur Dias' decision to award Hungary a penalty when Reece James was adjudged to have fouled Zsolt Nagy.

"We have to accept that we did not do enough to win the game, a draw would have been the fair outcome," he said. "We did not create too many clear-cut chances and the actual result hinged on a decision which is harsh but probably won't be overturned.

"Once it has been given as a penalty, he probably will not overturn it. You see challenges like that in the box, Reece James puts his body between the ball and the forward makes a meal of it. Away from home sometimes you will get those calls.

"It has [been a long season], but the heat was a factor and took a lot out of the players, and we tried to refresh the team earlier than normal.

"The balance of finding out about new things and the consistency of the regular team, I have to look at whether I got that right.

"I don't want to be too harsh on them, these are games where we need to learn from. They are bitterly disappointed because we want to keep winning matches. If we want to be a team right at the top tier of football, we need to come here and win."

A Dominik Szoboszlai penalty ended England's record 22-game unbeaten run as Gareth Southgate's side suffered a 1-0 loss to Hungary in their Nations League opener.

The Three Lions had not lost since 2020 outside of penalty shoot-outs – their best ever sequence – but left Budapest empty-handed in their first competitive match of a World Cup year.

The decisive goal came from the spot after substitute Reece James was penalised for a trailing arm on Zsolt Nagy in the box, allowing Szoboszlai to score 24 minutes from time and earn Hungary's first win against England since 1962.

It was a result welcomed by around 35,000 fans in a behind-closed-doors match, as children were allowed to attend in line with UEFA sanctions despite a stadium ban for racist behaviour at Euro 2020.

And there were audible boos from those in attendance as England took the knee ahead of kick-off, back in Budapest where their players were the subject of abuse last year.

Alan Pardew has quit his role as CSKA Sofia boss after several of the club's players were subjected to racist abuse by their own fans.

Pardew initially joined the Bulgarian club in an advisory capacity in 2020 but moved into the dugout after Stoycho Mladenov's resignation this April.

But the former Newcastle United boss has now left the club after four CSKA black players had bananas thrown at them by their own fans before a game against Botev Plovdiv last month, one week on from losing the Bulgarian cup final to fierce rivals Levski Sofia.

In a statement released on the club's website, Pardew said: "First, I want to thank all the real CSKA fans for their support and passion for the club.

"It was a privilege for me to be a part of and to serve this club. Unfortunately, my time here is over. 

"The events before and after the match with Botev were not acceptable for me, for my assistant Alex Dyer, or for our players. The reason no one gave an interview after the match was that we were all very outraged by the situation that had escalated.

"Our players decided to play only out of loyalty and to protect the club. The small group of organised racist fans who tried to sabotage this match is not what I want to lead and represent the team in front of. 

"This is definitely not the right path for the benefit of CSKA, because such a club deserves much more."

Pardew's assistant Dyer, the first black coach at the club, has also left his role.

Nazem Kadri scored a decisive hat-trick for the Colorado Avalanche against the St. Louis Blues in Game 4, having been determined to perform after alleging threats and racist abuse.

Avalanche center Kadri was involved in a collision with Jordan Binnington in Game 3, bringing a premature end to the Blues goaltender's series.

Former NHL player Akim Aliu revealed on Twitter on Sunday he had subsequently spoken to Kadri, who he said had "been subject to so many racist attacks and threats since last night that police had to be brought in".

The Avalanche confirmed they were aware of threats made towards their player – a Muslim of Lebanese descent – and were working with local law enforcement to investigate.

In the meantime, Kadri responded on the ice with three goals in Monday's 6-3 win to put the Avalanche 3-1 up and on the brink of the Western Conference Finals.

"I wanted to come out tonight and really put a mark on this game, especially after what happened," Kadri said. "I tried to do that as best as possible.

"Sometimes you've got to be patient, and you've got to wait. I was able to strike early in the second period and was able to get the mojo going."

He added of the incidents: "People need to be aware this stuff still happens, and it's hurtful."

Speaking ahead of Game 4, Blues coach Craig Berube – who had questioned Kadri's role in Binnington's injury, referencing his "reputation" in an apparent nod to previous postseason suspensions – said of the threats: "I've got no comment on that stuff."

Former South Africa director of cricket Graeme Smith has been cleared of racism allegations against him by two independent arbitrators.

Smith was accused of racial bias against black leadership at Cricket South Africa (CSA), discrimination against Proteas wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile and unfair racial treatment surrounding the appointment of Mark Boucher over Enoch Nkwe in 2019.

The former Proteas skipper was under review by Dumisa Ntsebeza SC after CSA's Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) process, with Ntsebeza unable to conclude on "definite findings" in December 2021.

The initial report criticised Smith and former captain AB de Villiers for selection decisions, which it said were prejudicial towards black players, allegations the pair both denied.

That led to further formal processes, with two independent arbitrators Ngwako Maenetje SC and Michael Bishop reviewing the case, before Smith was cleared of the allegations of racism.

Smith, who held the CSA director role between 2019 and 2022 before his contract ended in March this year, has also been reimbursed his costs by CSA on the advice of the arbitration.

Lawson Naidoo, chairman of the CSA Board, said after the decision: "The manner in which these issues have been dealt with and resolved by the arbitration proceedings confirms CSA's commitment to deal with the SJN issues in a manner that treats them with utmost seriousness but also ensures fairness, due process and finality.

"Now that finality on these processes has been reached, it is appropriate to recognise the extraordinary contribution that Graeme has made to South African cricket, first as the longest-serving Test captain in cricket history and then as director of cricket from 2019 to 2022.

"His role as director has been critical in rebuilding the Proteas men's team in particular and has laid a solid foundation for his successor.

"We fully appreciate that after his time as director, Graeme wants new challenges in the commercial and cricket worlds.

"He has a long career ahead of him and we very much hope that he will still work in the cricket world in appropriate capacities going forward."

CSA apologised for the unwarranted public disclosures of Smith's personal information, including his remuneration, during the SJN process, as they thanked the 41-year-old for his efforts in charge.

Pholetsi Moseki, who is CSA's chief executive, added: "On behalf of the executives, staff and players at CSA, I would like to thank Graeme for all that he did as the director of cricket.

"He put up his hand at a particularly tumultuous period for CSA and he has often gone beyond his contracted duties to assist CSA during his term."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli insisted "four teams can still win the Scudetto" after his side moved back to the top of Serie A with a 1-0 victory over Cagliari, which was marred by abuse directed at Mike Maignan.

The Rossoneri dominated for large parts on Saturday, but a lack of clinical finishing left them frustrated until just before the hour.

Ismael Bennacer stepped up with an exquisite volley into the bottom-left corner to edge Milan past Walter Mazzarri's side, who spurned two great opportunities through Joao Pedro and Keita Balde in response.

Victory meant Milan restored their three-point lead over Napoli, who defeated Udinese 2-1 earlier on Saturday, and they are six ahead of defending champions Inter, who have played a game fewer, after they were held by Fiorentina.

Juventus could cut the gap on the leaders to seven when they host Salernitana on Sunday, and Pioli believes the Scudetto race is far from over with eight games remaining for his side.

"Every game is an important crossroads now. I liked the team, even when we didn't score in the first half, as we played with quality and intensity," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"Cagliari caused us problems, but that's inevitable when you have two teams with such strong motivation."

Milan's triumph was their third straight win by a 1-0 scoreline and, while delighted with the result, Pioli would look to see his team be more ruthless in front of goal.

"We would like to score more and went close again several times today, but the important thing is to win," he added.

"We're doing great things, but we also know there are four sides that could still win the Scudetto. There's no point looking too far ahead, there's a long way to go and we need to concentrate only on our own path."

Milan's win was tainted, however. There was a commotion between the players after the final whistle, and Pioli confirmed that goalkeeper Mike Maignan had made claims he was racially abused by some Cagliari fans.

"Mike told me there was racist abuse from behind the goal," Pioli responded when asked about the scenes at full-time.

"It's always sad when these things happen, nobody deserves that."

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