NASCAR banning Confederate flag from events

Two Confederate flags fly at Kentucky Speedway during a NASCAR race in 2015

NASCAR said Wednesday it was banning the display of the Confederate flag at its events following calls for its removal from the circuit's racing venues.

A statement from the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) said the presence of the flag at its events "runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment" for fans and competitors.

"Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special," the statement said.

"The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties," it added.

The Confederate flag has been a common sight at NASCAR circuits, particularly in the sport's southern US heartland.

However mounting unease at the continued presence of a flag that for many remains a symbol of slavery and racism has prompted officials to act.

NASCAR's decision follows weeks of nationwide protests in the United States against racism and police brutality following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd during his arrest by police in Minneapolis on May 25.

Trailblazing African-American NASCAR driver Darrell "Bubba" Wallace this week called for the Confederate flag to be removed from venues, after wearing a t-shirt with the words "I Can't Breathe" on it during a race on Sunday.

"My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags," Wallace said.

"No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them."

The Confederate flag had once been wholeheartedly embraced by NASCAR, with the series staging the now renamed "Rebel 400" every year near Confederate Memorial Day, when the dead from the defeated Confederate army in the US Civil War are remembered.

However the flag's association with white supremacists prompted NASCAR chiefs to describe the flag as an "offensive and divisive" symbol following the murder of nine black Americans inside a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015.

But back then NASCAR stopped short of banning the flag's display altogether, however, instead setting up an exchange program where race-goers could exchange their Confederate flags for American ones.

Two Confederate flags fly at Kentucky Speedway during a NASCAR race in 2015