Features - News Feature
DECEMBER 1, 1989
The art of the possible: How does the FISA work?
BY JOE SAWARD
The FIA -- Federation Internationale de l'Automobile -- is, in effect, an international car union. It was founded in 1904 to ensure the unity of the automobile movement and safeguard the concept of automobilism.
"The FIA is composed of about 100 clubs in 92 countries," explains FISA Secretary-General Yvon Leon, a man with 18 years experience in the organisations. "The membership varies according to whether the fees are paid or not! The FIA is recognised by the United Nations Organisation and the European Council in Strasbourg.
"The FIA was very important some years ago because, at that time, the main FIA activity was the customs carnet and all the various activities regarding tourism and that kind of thing. At that time you had a lot of problems going abroad. It was not easy to obtain visas and international insurance. To cross a border in a car in the Fifties was difficult. This was the FIA heyday.
"Obviously this has changed. The traditional activities have faded a lot and the sport, which was a minor activity between the wars, has become much more important.
"The FIA still carries on with touring activities, advising governments and European Councils with problems such as pollution and customs."
The FIA is a non-profit-making organisation. Its headquarters are presently in Paris, but can be at any location chosen by the supreme body of the organisation, the FIA General Assembly.
This body elects the FIA President and Vice-Presidents and considers recommendations from the FIA Committee, a smaller body which meets more regularly. For day-to-day business there is an Executive Committee and a permanent Administration under the FIA Director-General. There is also an FIA Secretary-General who implements the policies of the committees and liaises with the member clubs. Feeding this system are a number of FIA Commissions.
The best way to explain the FIA is to use the model of a government. The FIA President is, if you like, the Prime Minister; the Vice-Presidents are his ministers and the Commissions act as the ministries.
There are several FIA 'ministries' of which we, in the sport, never hear. These include the CIT (International Touring Commission), the CIC (International Traffic Commission), the CID (International Customs Commission), the CHI (International Historical Commission), and the CTI (The International Technical Commission) study group.
There is also the FISA. This is the Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile. It was founded in 1922 and was known for many years as the CSI (International Sporting Commission).
The FIA is the only international sporting body governing motor sport, but this 'sporting power' is delegated to the FISA. In other words, the FISA is the Sports Ministry of the FIA. At the same time, however, FISA has become an independent body. It has been granted full powers by the General Assembly to take all decisions concerning the organisation, direction and management of international motor sport.
"About 15 years ago," says Leon, "there was a need for a more professional body to handle motor sport. The development of motor sport at the time was obviously changing very much with the appearance of sponsors and such things.
"That was when the President of the FFSA (French National Sporting Federation) Jean-Marie Balestre came in. He decided to carry out a reform which would give the sporting commission of the FISA a more professional structure.
"There was an amendment to the FIA statutes, voted in 1978 in Melbourne, and the FISA was born. It is, in fact, a Federation within another Federation."
Balestre was elected President of the FISA at the time. In this role he reports annually to the FIA General Assembly. In 1986 Balestre also became President of the FIA.
To return to the model of government, this means that Balestre is, in effect, both Prime Minister and Sports Minister.
The election of Balestre as FIA President showed that the sport had grown to be the most important part of the FIA empire.
Today, this influence is reflected in the membership of the FIA Committee, which includes 11 members of the FISA World Motor Sport Council and at least eight others who are titular national representatives on the FISA Plenary.
In other words, the FIA Committee is effectively under the control of the sporting interests. It has a membership of 35, of which at least 19 are directly involved in the sport.
Ultimately, however, the various committees must answer to the FIA General Assembly -- which has the final say in what happens in the FIA.
The FISA Plenary holds a similar role within FISA. This consists of representatives of all the national sporting clubs and associations. It has fewer members than the FIA, as not every country has motor sport. At present there are around 70 FISA member clubs (also known as the ASNs -- national sporting authorities).
The Plenary Conference elects the FISA President, Vice-Presidents and the World Motor Sport Council every four years.
The WMSC is made up of the FISA President, eight Vice-Presidents and 10 members. In addition, there are three other members who automatically have a right to sit on the WMSC: the President of the FISA Manufacturers' Commission, the President of FOCA and the President of the International Karting Commission (CIK).
These 22 delegates effectively govern motor sport. Anyone with a block of support numbering at least 11 in the WMSC will, therefore, be in control unless the FISA Plenary decides to overturn the decisions.
The WMSC normally meets four times a year, but this can be increased if problems need to be solved. This body is fed with information by the specialised commissions of the FISA.
"There are 14 or 15 of these," explains Leon. "Some are very important, some are of a lesser importance. They cover all aspects of motorsport."
These range from such as the Technical Commission (under Gabriele Cadingher), Safety Commission (John Corsmit), Medical Commission (Prof Sid Watkins) to the powerful Manufacturers' Commission under Max Mosley.
"The commission members are elected every year," says Leon. "The member clubs of the FISA propose their specialised people to these various commissions."
The implementation of the decisions of the WMSC, and the day-to-day organisation of the FISA, is carried out by the FISA Secretariat, which is based in Paris. This is under the control of the Secretary-General.
"We are not elected," says Yvon Leon, who has held the job since the days of the CSI. "We are paid on a normal basis to do a job.
"It is difficult to give you an accurate number of the FISA staff. There are the permanent people like Roland Bruynseraede, who is our Formula 1 race director, safety inspector and starter. He doesn't have an office here in Paris, as there is no reason for it, but he comes under my control.
"We have about 10-12 people who go to each and every Grand Prix. This includes Professor Watkins, Gabriele Cadringher, a permanent steward John Corsmit, the press people and so on.
"In the development for more professionalism we have entrusted some people with set tasks on a permanent basis.
"This is the same pattern for World Sports-Prototype Championship, Formula 3000 and World Championship Rallies.
"We have the same sort of organisation from a technical point of view. We now have four engineers at FISA and soon there will be five. They are each responsible for a different championship. They go to each race of that championship in order to ensure consistency in scrutineering.
"There is room for improvement, there is no doubt about it. When I started there were four people including me on sporting side. Now we are 45 all together. I do sincerely think that we cover a good amount of ground. We have the specialised people where they are needed and a presence of the FISA at the venues where the events take place.
"We need more people because there are more events and we need to look after not only the world championships but other regional series."
"Undoubtedly professionalism means that you have to rely on professionals. The old times of the benevolent people, with their blazers and ties at a race meeting, is now over."
Efficient or not, FISA is expensive. The annual budget is around #4 million. This money is raised in several ways including the calendar rights.
"Every time a club wants an international event put onto the calendar there is a fee that is paid to the FISA," says Leon.
"This fee may be important for a world championship event or very low for just a basic international event."
Another large source of income is the recognition of cars for competition (homologation). These fees are paid for by the manufacturers.
There are also registration fees from entrants in the FIA championships, plus licence fees, membership charges and miscellaneous income from such sources as the sale of yearbooks and fines ("which are not budgeted") and, of course, television rights.
"The FIA is the owner of the rights pertaining to the World Championships," explains Leon. "It has given the mandate to exploit the television rights to an outside organisation and a percentage of the TV rights is paid to the FIA and the FISA.
"Mr Ecclestone has been the man in charge of promoting the Formula 1 World Championship for a long time. The CSI had left a big gap and obviously people filled the gap. The President's idea was to ask Mr Ecclestone to join the FIA. He was elected a Vice-President of the FIA for commercial affairs which is a very special position. It is a position which is a little bit special. Now the promotion of all the championships is carried out through Mr Ecclestone's organisation.
"There is a percentage of the television rights which is set. We have an agreement with him, but I cannot name the terms.
"It is like when the Ministry of Defence decides to build a new fighter plane. They go to private companies like Airbus Industries or McDonnell Douglas and sign a contract."
In addition to its executive power, the FIA also has a legislative power to sort out disputes between its members. This power has been upheld in the civil courts of France on several occasions.
The legislative power rests with the International Court of Appeal.
"This is completely independent," says Leon. "It is a body of the FIA composed of people having absolutely nothing to do with the FISA. They cannot be members of FISA, its Commissions, members of World Motor Sport Council, whatever."
The 15 judges on the International Court of Appeal come from all around the globe. They are elected for three year periods on the joint proposal of the FIA Committee and the WMSC. The International Court of Appeal is convened by the FIA Executive Committee and its decisions are only valid if there are at least three members present. Members belonging to the countries involved are not allowed to sit on the tribunal.
The result of this is that some representatives are rarely called upon as their countries are regularly involved in the disputes while others appeal court members, such as Greece, Portugal and Holland, are more often called upon.
While the International Court of Appeal is independent, the FIA and FISA committees are not. As with any form of government there are political groupings and alliances. In election campaigns promises can be made and support of voters gained and lost.
If it appears that Jean-Marie Balestre has considerable powers within the FIA and FISA, it is because he is a better politician than some those would seek to challenge him.
There are some in motor sport who believe that with Jean-Marie in power anything is possible.
But then, politics is the art of the possible.