The aftermath of the crash between Marco Simoncelli and Dani Pedrosa at Le Mans is now spiralling rapidly out of control. The ride-through penalty awarded by Race Direction (for "riding in an irresponsible manner, which could cause danger to others") caused a good deal of controversy around the world, and just as the affair appeared to be dying down, the situation was reignited when Race Direction announced that Simoncelli would be called into a meeting with them at Barcelona.
But things have gotten even worse over the past few days: the Italian press agency ANSA is reporting that Simoncelli has received threats of physical violence prior to the Catalunya Grand Prix at Barcelona. The reports, which an article at GPOne.com expands upon, state that the threats were first noticed and reported by Spanish journalists, and that San Carlo Gresini Honda team boss Fausto Gresini confirmed the threats to ANSA. The threats reportedly grew out of anti-Simoncelli groups on social networking sites which sprang up after the crash at Le Mans, and turned into threats of physical harm in recent days.
The threats are part of a long and unhappy history of tension between Spain and Italy - motorcycle racing's two dominant nations - in recent years. With Spanish and Italian riders dominating all three classes, and a heavy media presence from both countries in the paddock, the atmosphere has tended to get frayed on occasion. Incidents involving Simoncelli, Bautista, Lorenzo, Barbera, Rossi, Capirossi and Gibernau have seen journalists in the media center come close to blows on several occasions, and fans from both countries have vented their fury and even turned the atmosphere extremely intimidating after some on-track incidents between riders from the two nations.
But these latest threats of physical violence are the current low point, both of relations between the two sets of fans, and in behavior among the otherwise exemplary racing fans. There are echoes of the words attributed to the legendary Liverpool soccer coach Bill Shankly, who claimed to be disappointed in people who believed that the sport was a matter of life and death, saying it was much, much more important than that. But as anyone who has ever attended a serious accident, or lost a loved one, or suffered a serious illness will tell you, that statement is the worst kind of claptrap imaginable.
Sport - even a sport as fantastic as motorcycle racing - is merely a pastime, a form of entertainment to wile away a few hours before we shuffle off this mortal coil. Though motorcycle racing may evoke intense joy and bitter disappointment, and rouse the kind of passion that adds a vast extra dimension to life, it is relatively unimportant in the vast scheme of things. Even those who dedicate their lives to the sport understand that there is more to life than just racing. Every rider enters the track with no intention of inflicting pain on his rivals, other than the fierce sting of humiliation once he beats them.
Whatever anyone's view of the Simoncelli/Pedrosa crash, to believe that Simoncelli intended to harm Pedrosa in the crash - or vice versa - is utter nonsense. At worst, Simoncelli could be accused of acting recklessly and without thinking about the consequences of his actions, but even that is a very, very long way from justifying threats of violence. In a democratic and free society, the monopoly of violence remains with the state, and should a rider commit an act that is so egregiously violent that it requires action, then, to paraphrase Simoncelli, "they will be arrested." Threats of violence from fans are as unnecessary as they are idiotic.
As so often seen in discussions on internet forums, fans may feel that they have to defend their favorite riders, but the reality is that the riders do not need the fans to defend them. The riders fight their own battles out on the track, and are perfectly capable of managing that on their own.