LONDON – Bernie Ecclestone has slammed the “prudish” decision by Formula One's current owners to dispense with grid girls in the lead-up to races.
Darts took a similar decision last month, banning the women who walk on with the players before matches.
Typically, the grid girls in Formula One display team placards or stand with an umbrella that shields drivers waiting in their cars from the weather before the start of a Grand Prix.
But feminist groups and others have hit out at sports who employ women in purely “decorative” roles, saying it is demeaning and makes it harder for female competitors to be taken seriously in what is still a largely male-dominated environment.
However, 87-year-old British businessman Ecclestone, for decades the 'ringmaster' of Formula One before selling to current owners Liberty Media, was unimpressed.
“The country at the moment is getting a bit prudish,” he told Britain's Sun newspaper on Thursday. “You should be allowed to have grid girls because the drivers like them, the audience like them and no one cares. These girls were... part of the spectacle. I can't see how a good-looking girl standing with a driver and a number in front of a Formula One car can be offensive to anybody.”
‘Welcome to the 21st Century’
But Sean Bratches, managing director of commercial operations at F1, said on Wednesday: “While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 grands prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms.”
Meanwhile a spokesman for Formula E, where more environmentally-friendly electric cars are raced rather than the petrol-driven machines that compete in Grand Prix, hailed a change it said was long overdue.
“We're glad to welcome F1 to the 21st century,” the spokesman told Autosport magazine. “Formula E stopped using grid girls last year already, but we just didn't feel the need to shout about it.”
Nevertheless, some of grid girls were unhappy about their imminent unemployment, with Lucy Stokes telling her Twitter followers:
“I love my job. I'm respected, paid well & proud to represent the team I'm working for. It’s not right for anyone, let alone 'feminists' to judge our job when quite frankly they are putting so many women out of work. Where is the equality & empowerment here? #GridGirls#F1“.
Rebecca Cooper, another grid girl, tweeted:
“If we don't do something to stop this where will it end? No grid girls, no cheerleaders, female singers being told what to wear on stage, no models in magazines?! I'll fight for my right to choose what I wear, where I work and to keep a job I love. I'll #fightformyrighttochoose”.