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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Confusion over Canadian GP
Crowds in excess of 300,000 have been known at the Canadian GP
The organiser of the Canadian Grand Prix has said the race has been dropped from next year's calendar - only for Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone to deny it.

Race promoter Normand Legault told a news conference on Thursday that he had received a letter from Ecclestone saying that Montreal would not be hosting a race in 2004 because of national anti-tobacco laws.

But on Friday Ecclestone denied that he has axed the race.

"I've no idea where this story came from - the calendar for 2004 has not been put out yet or even considered," Ecclestone told the PA news agency.

"I don't know what's in my head at the moment I'm so busy, but the calendar for 2004 is not out yet."

His claim that he has not thought about next year's calendar flies in the face of claims by the US Grand Prix organiser that its date has been moved from September to 20 June in 2004.

The Canadian anti-tobacco advertising legislation was announced in 1997 and the Grand Prix was given a seven-year grace period before tough new laws curbing tobacco advertising at sporting events are introduced on 1 October.

Legault added: "Based on this situation, Mr Ecclestone has the legal right to call an end to the contract.

"It's nothing personal. It's a contractual matter. It's an issue he had the right to raise and which he did raise and we're faced with his decision on how he deals with it.

It might be for F1 to decide to comply with various local legislation in the various countries they visit
Normand Legault
Canadian GP promoter
"But we feel, and when I say we, I mean by extension Formula One, have already benefited from a seven-year grace period for promoting tobacco products."

Legault added that he the Canadian legislation was "a very reasonable position... and I don't feel justified for us to ask the government to do more than that.

"It's not necessarily for the tobacco laws to be changed to accommodate the teams. It might be for the teams to decide to comply with various local legislation in the various countries they visit."

He did admit, however, that the absence of the race would have "an important economic impact" and reduce tourism in Montreal.

If Ecclestone has indeed decided to drop Canada, the plan will be met with dismay by many F1 insiders.

The Montreal race, held on a track named for the late Ferrari ace Gilles Villeneuve, has been one of the most popular events since it made its debut in 1978.

Last week, a Belgian politician said the country's race at Spa-Francorchamps would be reinstated in 2004 after a year out following a decision to delay a law banning tobacco advertising.

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The decision demonstrates F1's dependence on tobacco advertising - with Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Jordan and BAR all having cigarette companies as their major backer.

And it underlines the seriousness of the recent decision to go back on plans to ditch cigarette advertising.

For years, F1 boss Max Mosley had insisted the sport would voluntarily introduce its own ban on tobacco advertising in 2006, in line with the plans of the World Health Organisation.

But in June Mosley said the ban would be replaced by a "recommendation" that such sponsorship should end.

But with the notable exception of BMW Williams, who have a policy not to have cigarette advertising, F1 teams have been reluctant to wean themselves of tobacco advertising.

Those who stick with it claim that it is one of the few sources from which they can access the amount of money they need to race, although Williams' success in finding sponsorship elsewhere undermines that argument.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Five Live's Jonathan Legard
"Mr Ecclestone was insistent in his denial"


McLaren's David Coulthard
"The Montreal event is great for Formula One"



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