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Bernie Ecclestone backs Vladimir Putin on gay rights issue

By Ben Wyatt, CNN
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bernie Ecclestone backs Russian President Vladimir Putin on gay rights issue
  • "I've great admiration for his courage to say what he says," Formula One chief tells CNN
  • "90% of the world agree with him as well," says Ecclestone ahead of Russia's F1 debut
  • Ecclestone is cleared by London court Thursday in compensation case

Sochi, Russia (CNN) -- Vilified by the international community for his government's attitude on gay rights, Russian president Vladimir Putin has found himself an ally in Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

Putin's government, whose recently-introduced anti-gay legislation -- which prohibits spreading so-called "gay" propaganda to minors -- has been a focal point of critics.

Opponents argue that the law enacted last year is in contravention to the spirit of the Olympic Games, with the Winter version being hosted this month by the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

But in an exclusive interview with CNN, Ecclestone says he "completely agrees" with Putin's policy towards homosexuals.

"He hasn't said he doesn't agree (with homosexuality) just that he doesn't want these things publicized to an audience under the age of 18," said Ecclestone, arguing critics had misrepresented Putin.

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"I completely agree with those sentiments and if you took a world census you'd find 90% of the world agree with it as well," added the 83-year-old, who oversees one of the world's most lucrative sports.

The F1 ringmaster last met with Putin in February 2013, when he flew to Sochi to assess construction progress ahead of Russia's debut grand prix.

The Black Sea resort town will stage round 16 of this year's world championship on a circuit that will run around the Olympic Park's facilities.

Ecclestone believes Russia has done a "first-class job" in the new circuit's preparation and a "super job" hosting the Olympics and that more credit should be given to Putin.

"I've great admiration for him and his courage to say what he says," said the octogenarian.

"It may upset a few people but that's how the world is. It's how he sees (the world) and I think he's completely right," Ecclestone added.

The controversial billionaire is due to face trial in Germany, which is scheduled to start in April, accused of making corrupt payments to a banker who worked on the sale of F1 in 2006.

Ecclestone denies the charges, along with those brought against him in a civil case in London, where he was accused of undervaluing the sport of F1 in the same deal.

Ecclestone was cleared in the latter case Thursday, despite being labeled as "not reliable or truthful" by the judge -- who ruled that German company Constantin Medien's claim for compensation was without merit.

Justice Newey said Ecclestone had entered into a "corrupt agreement" with banker Gerhard Gribkowsky in 2005, but the magistrate said no loss to Constantin had been proved, the UK Press Association reported.

Succession planning

With Ecclestone's legal problems casting doubt over his future in F1, the media has been speculating about his possible successors -- with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and Justin King, chief executive of British supermarket Sainsbury's top of the list.

Ecclestone said it was hard to assess whether they had the right skills needed for the job.

"I've no idea what attributes you'd need," he told CNN. "It's like saying we'd need someone to replace Frank Sinatra, you know? You never know what they'd need to have until they start the role.

"For someone to hold a high position in China or Japan you have to be older than I am -- at least the good thing about that is you're not going to have them for that long!"

F1 revamp

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This season F1 will see wide-scale changes.

As well as Russia making its debut on the race calendar, the cars will be powered by smaller, V6 hybrid engines that promise greater fuel efficiency.

However, the move away from the loud V8s is a development that concerns Ecclestone, who is worried the sport may lose some of its drama through the subsequent noise reduction.

"I'm not at all happy with the sound of the new engines, to be honest," he said.

"It doesn't sound like F1, but that's my opinion, let's wait and see what the public think."

The system for awarding points to drivers has also been revamped.

The victor in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will now win 50 points compared to the 25 points on offer for each of the other 18 races, and Ecclestone is keen to extend that change to the last three events.

"The reason is simple -- with the calendar as it is the championship could be over by September and if there's another three races to go and a car that looks like it could win easy now -- (the rival cars) if they win two or three races at the end, could win the championship (instead)," said Ecclestone.

"Why should it devalue six races before the end? People will be following like hell to see who's there at the end of the races. Win the last three and you can win the championship, it's a whole different scenario."

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