Honda website
Honda website

APRIL 2, 2003

Legal games

The FIA says that it is going to take action against the European Union over the change of date for the European tobacco sponsorship ban. The original European Union directive, which was thrown out by the European Court of Justice in October 2000, named October 1, 2006 as the date that tobacco sponsorship would end. But when a second directive was drafted this date was brought forward to July 31, 2005. The FIA has tried to have this date changed because of the implications of the change but the European Commission has refused to budge or even to explain why the date was changed. The problem is that working on the earlier date several teams and sponsors had concluded deals taking tobacco sponsorship until the end of 2006. In order not to break these contracts the FIA says that "the most likely consequence of the 2005 ban in the EU is that a number of the EU events on FIA Formula One World Championship calendar will have to move to non-EU countries".

The FIA says that it is left with no alternative than to challenge the ban legally. This is all well and good but the first thing to be taken into account is that the law cannot be challenged until it is actually a law and that will not happen until it is confirmed in the Official Journal of the European Union. It is not clear when this will happen but, as we understand it, it could be very quickly. The FIA's announcement of legal action may be an attempt to get the EU to change its mind before it is necessary for there to be legal action. Having said that it is unlikely that EU Commissioner David Byrne will be willing to back down because he has already had to face the collapse of his first attempt at a directive and the arguments put forward for the new directive are based on internal market legislation. The FIA argues that if the move goes ahead it will force events out of Europe which will cause considerable economic damage in the regions where the European races are currently held. Evidence of this is very clear and a group of Belgian businesses is currently in the process of challenging the FIA's cancellation of the Belgian GP because of the country's aggressive attitudes towards tobacco which caused the F1 teams to vote against competing. As a result of that decision the FIA cancelled the race and the local businesses immediately began to wail about lost income.

The oddest thing about the Commission's attitude is that the day before Byrne's original directive was thrown out, the FIA announced its intention to work with the World Health Organization to impose a worldwide ban on tobacco sponsorship in the sport. Byrne welcomed this initiative.

"This This shows clearly the change in attitude to tobacco sponsorship that is now taking place," he said. "I call on other sporting organizations to renounce tobacco sponsorship."

So why then did the Commission adopt a completely different implementation date?