MAY 27, 2008
The right to privacy versus executive responsibility
The focus of the Formula 1 world now moves from Monaco to Paris, where a week from today, the FIA General Assembly will gather to decide the fate of Max Mosley as president of the federaation. Mosley, his staff and his allies are busy wheeling out their arguments and his opposition is doing much the same, albeit in a less organised fashion.
The problem that Mosley faces is that all the arguments about privacy became irrelevant from the moment his sex life entered the public domain. It is not the mechanicism by which the revelations occurred that is important, but rather his reaction to them. Mosley did not try to deny his activities. It was, in any case, impossible to do that. What he did not do, however, was to resign and save the FIA the embarrassment of the scandal, and avoid the federation being dragged into the whole business. There is a clear argument, based on previous use of the rules, that this brought the sport into disrepute. Mosley may see nothing wrong with sado-masochistic orgies but a large number of other people on the planet do not think this is something they need or want to know about. The FIA elected Mosley with the unspoken hope that he would avoid such things, just as it hopes its primary players will not fall foul of financial scandals and other such embarrassments. As president there is a responsibility to do what is right and what is best for the FIA, even if the FIA Statutes do not cover these points specifically. The President is chosen to be the symbol of the organisation and the image that the FIA wishes to portray is of a strong yet discreet organisation that sorts out important matters with governments, car manufacturers and so on. Mosley failed to live up to those unstated qualities and, worse than that, had the poor judgement to continue to involve himself in these sordid visits even when he claims he knew he was under surveillance.
Much has been made of Mosley's belief that he had to stay on to safeguard the FIA's future. This argument does two things: it denigrates others in the organisation as it clearly implies they are not capable of replacing Mosley; and it suggests that things are not going well. Others may disagree with this assessment.
Mosley may well win the privacy case although there are arguments about public interest and the fact that he has set himself up as an advocate for the automobile world, representing the members of the FIA clubs - all 100 million of them. There is an argument that these people are entitled to know what sort of a man he is in his private life.
There is the added question of whether or not Mosley can continue to be effective in his FIA role when many people do not wish to be associated with him. He was in Monaco during the Grand Prix but aside from one heavily orchestrated walk through pitlane early one morning, he was not seen in the paddock and was not on the grid. He took part in a number of meetings, although one of them, with the car manufacturers involved in F1, was called off. He also cancelled a lunch that had been planned with the Formula 1 drivers, which had been organised to discuss safety matters.
There have been various rumours in recent days about FIA activities that have been affected by the scandal, but thus far there is no concrete evidence to back up any of the stories and the organisation is doing everything possible to be appear to be doing business as usual.