AUGUST 29, 2006
Politics in sport
The FIA says it is launching an investigation into how and why Mehmet Ali Talat was invited to present the winner's trophy at the Turkish Grand Prix. Race winner Felipe Massa received his trophy from Talat, who was introduced and captions on television "President of the Northern Turkish Republic of Cyprus".
There is no doubt that this was a deliberate piece of political theatre by the Turkish authorities. Cyprus became an independent country in 1960 but tensions between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish-Cypriot minority resulted in an outbreak of violence in 1963 and the deployment of a United Nations peace-keeping force the following year. In 1974 a Greek-sponsored attempt to seize control of the island resulted in Turkish troops invading the north. Greek Cypriots control the only internationally-recognized government but in 1983 Rauf Denktash dcelared the north to be independent with the formation of what was called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This is only recognized by Turkey. The entire island entered the European Union in May 2004, although EU obligations and rights apply only to the area under control of the government while being suspended in the Turkish-controlled zone.
Not surprisingly the Cypriot government denounced the F1 display as being "an unacceptable and provocative piece of theatre".
The FIA's reaction is that political neutrality is fundamental to its role as the governing body of international motor sport and that it will accept "no compromise or violation of this neutrality".
But it remains to be seen whether the Turks will lose their race. Commercial matters in F1 are only nominally controlled by the FIA and the race is Turkey is a nice little earner for FOM, which is unlikely to be much interested in this political kerfuffle.
One has to feel a littl sorry for the Turkish sporting authorities as they cannot easily say no to their government but at the same time cannot easily say no to the FIA.
There is little question that the act was provocative. The big question is why it happened and whether the FIA has the power to punish the Turks or whether the whole business will be fudged in the interests of commercial arrangements.
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