- Mohammed ben Sulayem will be one of only two names proposed for election to FIA President in December.
Mohammed ben Sulayem will be one of only two names proposed for election to FIA President in December.
Mohammed ben Sulayem will be one of only two names proposed for election to FIA President in December. He is supposed to succeed Jean Todt Compete in the most powerful position in motorsport and head the world association that controls Formula 1 and owns and regulates the other world championships. If successful, Ben Sulayem would be the first non-European to head the FIA.
The 59-year-old is one of the most prominent personalities in motorsport in the Middle East. The former multiple regional rally champion is President of the Motorsport Federation of the United Arab Emirates and has been FIA Vice President for Sport on the World Motorsport Council since 2008. Why did he decide to run for FIA President??
"Motorsport has given me a lot, almost all of my life," says ben Sulayem. "As a driver, I’ve won the Middle East rally championship 14 times in 20 years. Then I became the organizer and was responsible for motorsport in my home country. I think it’s time to give something back to the sport and the association. I am passionately trying to change and improve something, to take a few steps, but also to develop myself further. "
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Ben Sulayem has been considering running for FIA President for some time, and Todt’s resignation after three terms provides an opportunity. He recently published his manifesto and is running with the promise to increase participation in sport worldwide and improve financial transparency.
Ben Sulayem’s vision for running the FIA differs in one key way from that of Todt and his Vice-President Graham Stoker, who is Ben Sulayem‘s rival candidate in the election: he would appoint a CEO to lead the association.
Under Todt and his predecessor Max Mosley, the President heads the FIA, while the two pillars of sport and mobility (road traffic) are each headed by a Secretary General. This new vision would create a very powerful new role and make the FIA more corporate.
"The day-to-day business is not the president’s business," he says. "I don’t want to be micromanaged. I want to be a president who leads, but leave the day-to-day business to a CEO who can bring sport and mobility together." If elected, he and the CEO he has appointed would focus on increasing attendance and promise to double the number of attendees in motorsport worldwide within four years.
Ben Sulayem argues that Finland, with a population of 5.5 million, has 11,000 competitive license holders, while countries like China and India, with only around 4,000 license holders each, have huge development potential.
And how does he want to achieve that? He cites the example of the cross-car, the FIA’s concept for a low-cost entry into rallying. Essentially, it is an off-road buggy powered by a motorcycle engine. It should be a counterpart to the go-karts, which are an introduction to circuit racing.
"(You need) affordable entry-level vehicles," he says. "We started something called cross-car. And that’s fantastic, I think that’s the future. But the cost should be 8,000 euros, not more. And then it went up to 25,000 euros. If you look at India and China who have engines, why should we force them on them? "
"We draw up a blueprint, make sure that we monitor and implement the safety regulations," he continues. "And then we’ll let them set up their own local and regional championships. If we set ourselves the goal of doubling that number in four years, that’s doable."
"Formula 1 and the WRC are in good shape, they are very healthy. But the world needs more than that. We talk about the local or regional level, you need local participation, you need local events, and you need regional events . That can only work if it is inexpensive. "
Ben Sulayem not only wants to double the number of participants in motorsport, he also wants to strengthen the power of the regional motorsport centers and make the financial side of the association more transparent.
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"The financial side of the FIA is not healthy, we want to look at the finances and provide evidence that the FIA can return to operate in a positive way," he says. "Transparency and accountability are very important if you want to be taken seriously in the world. For example, when we wanted to take a look at the FIA accounts, it was very difficult to get it. I think we should look to the leading one Associations around the world, like the IOC, to which we belong. All accounts are listed on its website. "
Ben Sulayem‘s candidate for vice president of sport is former world rally champion and co-driver Robert Reid. One noticeable name on his list is Bernie Ecclestone’s wife Fabiana, who is running for Vice President Sports for the South America region.
The election will take place in Paris on December 17th. It will be a significant moment for sport because, given all the challenges motorsport faces – from environmental concerns to the need for greater diversity – the next four years will be important in setting the course for the future.
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