Turkey responds

The Turkiye Otomobil Sporlari Federasyonu (TOSFED), the national sporting authority of Turkey, says that it did not break any FIA rules at the weekend when Mehmet Ali Talat was allowed to present the winning trophy to Felipe Massa, arguing that he fulfils the criteria in the FIA regulations. The criteria, as detailed in Appendix 3 of the Formula 1 Sporting Regulations, are that the "the winning driver's award will be presented by the head of state or the prime minister of the host country or the FIA President. If such a person is not available, a comparable person within the host country, or a dignitary of international status should be invited. Should neither of these be available, the President of the ASN will be invited to present the winner's trophy".

The Turks are arguing that Talat qualifies for the job because he is "a dignitary of international status". This is an interesting argument.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - known as Kuzey Kõbrõs Turk Cumhuriyeti (KKTC) in Turkey - was declared on November 15 1983. Three days later the United Nations Security Council voted for Resolution 541 which declared that the declaration was "legally invalid" and called for its withdrawal. The UN argued that the declaration was incompatible with the terms of two treaties, establishing the Republic of Cyprus in 1960. The KKTC ignored all international objections and adopted a constitution in 1985 and held elections.

Talat did not hold high office until 1993 when he was the Minister of Education and Culture. He rose through the ranks to become deputy Prime Minister in one of a series of governments. Talat then led his party to victory in elections in February 2005 and served as Prime Minister until being elected president in April the same year.

The big question is whether the FIA can be convinced that the president of an illegal state is a "dignitary of international status". Only Turkey recognises KKTC as an independent state and the European Court of Human Rights, in the judgment of Loizidou v Turkey in 1998, recognised KKTC as a "subordinate local administration of Turkey". KKTC has tried in the past to become a member of the Commonwealth Games Federation but has been rejected.

In the end, however, the fight over whether Talat is important or not is likely to be a subsidiary issue because of remarks made by Murat Yalcintas and Rifat Hisarciklioglu after the event, which clearly indicated that their intention had been to make a political gesture on the podium. Yalcintas, the chairman of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, told the Anatolia news agency that "the Formula 1 race was a great opportunity. Cyprus is our national cause." and even gave details of how the race organisers had deliberately delayed notifying the F1 authorities "as much as we could" to avoid the idea being vetoed.

Rifat Hisarciklioglu, the chairman of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, told reporters that putting Talat on the podium was his idea but said that "I did not reveal my plan. I did not even tell him. If I had revealed this, politics would interfere and cause conflict. We concealed the plan until the race was underway."

Yalcintas and Hisarciklioglu are both key figures in MSO, the company that runs the circuit. This is controlled by another company called Formula Istanbul Yatõrõm AS, which is jointly owned by the Istanbul Chambers of Commerce and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey. Hisarciklioglu is the president of MSO. This means that they are both bound by the FIA regulations which state in Article 1 of the FIA Statutes that FIA members shall refrain from "manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination" in the course of their activities.

Thus there is a clear argument that the Turks indulged in political discrimination against Cyprus and there is no question that the Cypriots were upset as they believe that the land claimed by KKTC belongs to the Republic of Cyprus. That belief is supported by the UN, the Commonwealth and the European Union. The Cyprus Automobile Association has sent a letter to FIA protesting the presence of Talat.

Messing about with F1 podium ceremonies is a dangerous business. In 1997 the mayor of Jerez forced his way on to the podium and presented a trophy he was not supposed to present. The FIA reacted by cancelling the event and F1 has never returned to Jerez.

The Turks are likely to be in even more trouble than that because their gesture was calculated and a clear political manipulation of the situation. If unpunished it could undermine the FIA's political independence - and the FIA World Council is unlikely to stand for that.

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