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DECEMBER 14, 1998

More problems at Spa

THE Belgian Grand Prix at Spa has been beset by political troubles in recent years with different Belgian authorities battling over whether or not the race should be allowed to feature tobacco advertising. Last week the Wallonia regional government voted to overrule a national anti-tobacco law voted in November 1997 which banned all tobacco sponsorship in Belgium from the start of 1999. The ban caused the FIA to cancel the 1998 event and it was only reinstated when the regional government became involved.

The Wallonia regional government argues that the national ban violates the region's autonomy as the national government is only allowed to dictate foreign policy, defense, legal issues and the budget.

Shortly before the vote was taken it was announced that Belgium's special tax investigation unit was investigating the company which runs the race, which is owned by Slavica Ecclestone, Bernie Ecclestone's wife. The tax investigation appears to be a rather ham-fisted attempt by the Belgian government to disrupt the event.

Such political battles are not unusual in Belgium, a country which is split between two diverse and constantly bickering groups: the Flemings, who speak Flemish and the Walloons who speak French. If the race is cancelled there will be serious economic consequences for Wallonia, which is understood to gain around $30m from each event.

The FIA World Council added to Spa's woes by demanding that the medical center be improved for 1999.