Driver forced to remove 'Jesus' slogan from car before Circuit of Ireland race
Devout Christian told to cover message or risk rally axe
A rally driver was forced to remove the word Jesus from his vehicle or withdraw from the one of the sport's biggest competitions and the most high-profile of his career.
Motorsport chiefs told veteran driver Stanley Ballantine, a devout Christian, he had to cover up a message on his bonnet, which read "Jesus is the way", if he wanted to continue in the Circuit of Ireland.
It was spotted on the front of Mr Ballantine's high-powered Mitsubishi Lancer by an official from the sport's governing body who ordered he remove it.
The 53-year-old complied by blocking out the word Jesus using masking tape – only for his car to grind to a halt with an electrical fault hours later.
The slogan came to the official's attention in the service area in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.
The Circuit of Ireland was the fourth round of the European Championships and was beamed to a huge television audience.
While Mr Ballantine accepted the decision, others were frustrated by the move, making clear their opposition to the ban on social networking sites throughout the weekend.
The local legs of the race took place here during Good Friday and Easter Saturday, the most significant weekend in the Christian calendar.
A spokesman for the European Rally Championship last night said: "The ERC conforms to the rules laid out by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) governing body and those rules are always respected."
Pro-religious messages have adorned Mr Ballantine's vehicle for several years with the local motorsport authorities having no issues.
Mr Ballantine had already taken part in the first leg of the rally on Friday when the wording was spotted. The Strabane driver hadn't reckoned on the rules which govern a European championship rally on the international circuit.
They clearly state no political or religious advertising can be displayed on cars taking part.
His car's power subsequently cut out as he set off for the following day's action.
"Someone up above clearly didn't approve," a friend of Mr Ballantine's joked yesterday.
He added: "Stanley is one of the most inoffensive people you will ever meet.
"I think he was annoyed but accepted rules are rules.
"Saying that, I've never known anything like this to happen before. It's been a source of amusement rather than concern."
The Belfast Telegraph was unable to contact Mr Ballantine for comment last night.
The displaying of messages, including religious verses, on T-shirts under football tops has also been banned ahead of this year's World Cup, with players warned they will be punished if they break the rules.
The new law was proposed by the Football Association and will apply to domestic and international football.
It states: "Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer logo.
"A player/team of a player that reveals an undergarment that shows political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturers' logo will be sanctioned by the competition organiser or by FIFA."
The Circuit of Ireland was the fourth round of the FIA European Championships.
Last Thursday it was given a rousing send-off at the ceremonial start of the prestigious sporting event at Belfast City Hall.
Stages were held in Co Down and Co Antrim before finishing on Saturday night at the Titanic Bu ilding.