OCTOBER 11, 2006

Turks to appeal

The Turkish Automobile Sports Federation (TOSFED) has appealed the decision of the FIA World Motor Sport Council on September 19 and will be heard by the FIA International Court of Appeal in Paris on November 7. TOSFED wants to avoid paying a $5m fine imposed after the incident on the podium at the Turkish Grand Prix. The decision from the World Council came after what the FIA described as "a full investigation" and ruled against TOSFED and MSO, the organisers of the Turkish Grand Prix, on all counts. This meant that the World Council believed that Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat was not a suitable person to hand over the trophies and that getting him onto the podium in what amounted to an underhand way - admitted by those involved - it was a breach not only of the very first Article of the FIA Statutes, which states that FIA members shall "refrain from manifesting racial, political or religious discrimination" but also Article 151c of the FIA International Sporting Code which states that those involved in the sport should avoid "any fraudulent conduct or any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition or to the interests of motor sport".

At the time FIA spokesman Richard Woods made much of the fact that "political neutrality is fundamental to the FIA's role as the governing body of international motor sport. No compromise or violation of this neutrality is acceptable" but the World Council decided that a fine was better than more a serious punishment, despite the fact that the fine was seen as simply putting a price tag on such wrongdoing, rather than creating a serious deterrent. There is no doubt that any government with a will to make a international political statement using F1 will be able to do the same thing in the future, in the knowledge that a $5m fine is a pretty cheap price for global exposure of this kind.

This means that the decision of the International Court of Appeal is important for the sport and for the court itself. There is no doubt that in some circles in F1 there is sympathy for TOSFED. It is a huge fine for a small club to pay but that fact should not detract from what occurred. According to reports in Turkey the government will pay the fine if it is necessary to safeguard the race so an appeal is really only a question of how much should be paid. Appealing the decision is an odd thing to do in some respects as in the past the Court of Appeal has increased punishments if an appeal is found to be frivolous and does not bring to light any new evidence. If there really was a full investigation into the matter, there should not be any new evidence.

These are complicated matters in a very small world with different factions wanting different things. Turkey has, for example, one of the best race tracks in F1 these days and some insist that the Turks should not be thrown out. As an indication of the conflicting elements involved it is worth noting that at the Japanese Grand Prix, the steward appointed by the FIA was none other than Mumtaz Tahincioglu, the chairman of TOSFED.

This seemed a rather odd decision given that he was at the heart of the problems in Istanbul, just a few weeks ago.