MAY 5, 2005
So where do we go from here?
The first stop in the battle between the FIA and BAR-Honda is likely to be Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris. There are 181 such courts in France and as the FIA is officially headquartered at 8 Place de la Concorde in Paris, it is governed by French law. Certainly in previous cases in which the FIA has been challenged, the battles have been fought in the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris. The most celebrated case came in March 1987 when the Tribunal de Grande Instance ruled that Peugeot Sport (run at the time by Jean Todt) was right to challenge an FIA decision related to the sudden cancellation of Group S in rallying, following the deaths in 1986 of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Crespi on the Tour de Corse. The FIA (or rather its semi-autonomous subsidiary FISA) was ordered to pay damages of FF27m (around $4.5m at the time). The FIA appealed that case and in April 1988 the French Court of Appeal overturned the ruling and said that Peugeot's claims were unfounded and that the court could not rule on issues of safety.
At the time, the FIA President Jean Marie Balestre (Max Mosley's predecessor) said that: "This is an important legal victory. I hope that from now on this will encourage manufacturers to respect the rules of the federation and dissuade them from seeking action in the courts. It establishes that the federation has an independence which allows it to make decisions with total autonomy."
This, however, is not necessarily the case because while sporting federations are generally given the power to rule on sporting matters, there is always the possibility that decisions can be overturned for procedural and basic legal questions. The European Union insisted that the FIA alter its statutes some years ago to allow for legal actions beyond its courts and tried to address the issue of sport in the Nice Declaration of 2000. Article 7 of the Nice Declaration states that the EU "stresses its support for the independence of sports organisations and their right to organise themselves through appropriate associative structures. It recognises that, with due regard for national and community legislation and on the basis of a democratic and transparent method of operation, it is the task of sporting organisations to organise and promote their particular sports in the way which they think best reflects their objectives."
However a civil court could rule against a federation if the legal system was deemed to be undemocratic or unfair.
So the question which will have to be answered in this dispute is whether or not the ruling against BAR was fair and correct and whether the penalty is appropriate.
BAR continues to protest its innocence of all charges. It contends that its interpretation of the rules may not have been correct but argues that "it proved that it complied with the current regulations". The team argues that at no time did the car run underweight and pointed out that in the court this was never suggested to have been the case.
The question however goes beyond the technical questions and into the realms of whether or not the FIA International Court of Appeal is fair and balanced. That is a fundamental attack on the FIA but one which might be a good thing because it will, if nothing else clear the air because there have been, for many years, dissenting voices about the appeals process. A complaint to the European Union by Williams and McLaren in 2000 is evidence of that and there is an ongoing civil action involving Jean-Louis Schlesser in the French courts at the moment.
As with the questions in Melbourne, and with the disputes over the Concorde Agreement, it is our belief that the civil courts are the best place to decide such weighty matters so that the sport can either go on with the existing structures or create new ones to do the job.
The bad news is that once again Formula 1 is being dragged through the mud in the public eye.
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