Features - News Feature
SEPTEMBER 1, 1993
Why has FISA been abolished?
BY JOE SAWARD
FISA was the brainchild of Frenchman Jean-Marie Balestre. He was the father of European kart racing, heading the International Karting Commission when it was founded in 1961 and going on to become president of the French automobile sporting federation (FFSA) in 1973. The ambitious and politically-skilled Balestre wanted to run motor sport worldwide and was soon elected as a vice-president of the International Sporting Commission of the FIA (known in those times as the CSI).
Balestre was appalled by the lack of professionalism in the CSI to such an extent that he resigned as a vice-president in 1976. At the time the CSi was being run by Belgian Pierre Ugeux, who was running a major industrial company in Belgium and the Belgian Royal Automobile Club. He did not have enough time. Balestre, who had made his fortune in publishing, was able to concentrate all his efforts on the sport. In Melbourne in April 1978 Balestre proposed to the FIA General Assembly that the CSI be made autonomous from the FIA. Ugeux was not present and Balestre and his conspirators forced through the reform.
In September Ugeux announced he would not stand for the presidency of the new FISA and proposed that delegates vote for Balestre. In October 1978 Balestre defeated the American Tom Binford by 29 votes to 11. The CSI became the FISA. It was autonomous of the FIA, but was still a commission of the international automobile federation, reporting its activities to the FIA every year and getting its budget from the FIA.
The FISA, however, was Balestre's own private domain and as an effective politician he controlled most aspects and decisions being made.
There is no question that Balestre did lot for the sport, the very fact that when he was defeated by Max Mosley in the FISA presidential election of October 1991 by a margin of 43 to 29 shows how much the sport had grown under his presidency.
He fought a robust campaign in the 'war' with the Formula 1 teams between 1980-82 and won considerable financial gains for the FIA in the Concorde Agreement, by ceding some of the FISA's power in exchange for a percentage of the television rights for F1 racing.
Under his influence the FISA grew to be more important than its parent body, the FIA and it was no surprise that in October 1986 Balestre became FIA president.
That same week Max Mosley, who had been one of the leading lights of FOCA, defeated Philippe Schmitz as president of the FISA Manufacturers' Commission.
Two years later Balestre's chief opponent in the FISA-FOCA war, Bernie Ecclestone, was appointed FIA Vice-President (Promotional Affairs). This suited both parties because Ecclestone wanted to continue to make money out of F1, to which the FIA held all the rights, and Balestre wanted someone to do the job properly and make the FIA more money.
Mosley kept a low profile in his new job, using his diplomatic skills to the full and playing himself in as a major political player in the political circles of the FISA.
Balestre was often accused of going too far and, in 1989, after Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collided at Suzuka there were indications that the he had been involved in decisions which he had no right to be party to. Senna accused the governing body of "manipulating" the World Championship in favour of Alain Prost and this led to Senna's superlicence being denied.
After months of investigation, the British magazine Autosport published a damning story implicating Balestre. He was given the opportunity to reply to the charges, but his replies were rambling and incoherent.
Mosley says that it was the Suzuka 1989 scandal which made him decide to stand for the FISA presidency. In order to beat Balestre he had to play an extraordinary political game as the FISA president had enjoyed solid support for 13 years in office.
Mosley won the election of 1991 because he proved to be a better politician than Balestre. He studied the FISA system and concluded that in order to win the election it was necessary to gain the support of clubs all around the world, rather than concentrating on the big European clubs, which had traditionally controlled the FISA. He also realised that regional politics was important as clubs tended to vote with the biggest club in their region. Mexico, for example, carried the votes of most of the central America countries and when Japan voted one way, most of the Asian votes did the same.
One significant coup d'etat in his campaign came a couple of weeks before the FISA presidential election with a change at the JAF, Sadame Kamakura ousting Yoshio Tagaki. This was a significant Mosley victory.
Mosley duly defeated Balestre for the FISA presidency, leaving the Frenchman as president of the FIA. Balestre faced re-election in October this year. Whether he admits or not, Jean-Marie Balestre is beginning to slow down at 72 years of age and having survived heart surgery. The forces were gathering within the FIA to oust him. Chief among these were Jeffrey Rose of the RAC. Balestre's own preference was for Portugal's Cesar Torres to succeed him.
But Mosley had other ideas. Only too aware that the FISA was still part of FIA, and therefore its independence was always under threat from the FIA, Mosley wanted to secure his position.
Exactly who came up with the structure of the new FIA is uncertain, but it offered Balestre the perfect way to ease himself out of the FIA, without being defeated in another election. He would stand down and propose that FISA - his brainchild - be abolished and that Mosley replace him. Torres was put in as Deputy-President in charge of the new FIA World Motor Sport Council and Balestre was given the important new post of president of the FIA Senate.
Jean-Marie decided that this was the way to bow out. The reforms were proposed to the FIA Committee, a body dominated by sporting interests, and accepted by it at a meeting in Prague.
They had only to be confirmed by an extraordinary FIA general assembly in Paris.
It was clear that the FIA needed to be reformed and even Mosley's challenger for the FIA presidency Jeffrey Rose accepted the changes.
With Balestre gone, FISA had no purpose.