MAY 7, 2008

Going too far?

The Figaro newspaper in Paris has this morning published an exchange of e-mails regarding multiple World Champion Sebastien Loeb. The first e-mail was sent by Surinder Thatti, one of Max Mosley's closest allies, and head of the FIA Confederation of African Countries in Motorsport (CACMS), to the WRC committee chairman Morrie Chandler complaining about the appearance of Loeb after the Mexico Rally. Copies of the messages were also sent to other FIA bureaucrats.

Thatti wrote that "I watched the WRC Mexico highlights last night and I have to voice my opinion on the poor appearance of Sebastian Loeb on WRC - TV. He was unshaven, scruffy looking and with unkempt hair! It is wrong. When the FIA gives him global TV coverage to millions of viewers and to many children worldwide he is a hero and role model. It is very wrong for him to appear as he did at the finish of Rally Mexico and his co-driver in contrast looked neat and clean. I know there is a level of personal freedom one is allowed, but I feel he is taking this too far and someone should talk to him or his team about this."

Chandler responded by saying that "unfortunately it is not a problem that is unique to our sport as the same happens in football and other 'male' sports. Of course these persons are an insult to real males, but then Loeb had the arrogance to arrive 90 minutes late to the FIA awards dinner. My only solution is that we suggest to ISC that the camera does not cover them close up. It gives them the exposure they are entitled to as winners but no close up and shortened time slot focus on those who present our sport well."

This message was copied to the ISC's Simon Long and to Neil Duncanson, the boss of North One Television, owner of ISC.

"It is not for me to comment on drivers arriving late for FIA dinners but I do feel that it is precisely Sebastians 'ruggedly good-looking' appearance which has helped endear him to so many new and young fans both in France and around the world," Long responded. "I feel it would be a real mistake given what we are trying to do in terms of refreshing and re-positioning the WRC brand, if we were to instruct Sebastian - or any other WRC driver - to always appear with a photo fit, clean shaven, pristine look. WRC is rugged and real, it isnt immaculate. Thats a big part of the sports appeal which Sebastian is such an important element in defining."

Chandler then responded saying that "your organization is the one responsible for coverage and media growth of the WRC . If your experience say that his demeanor and appearance is what sells then so be it".

The exchange took place in March and it is interesting that it has only now emerged, two months after the discussions. The suspicion is that it has been leaked in order to paint Chandler and Thatti in a poor light. This is interesting as both are important figures in Max Mosley's FIA. Thatti has strong influence in Africa while Chandler has international power as many countries want to be get WRC dates. Chandler began his career in the sport as an executive in the Motorsport Association of New Zealand in 1974. He became president of that organisation in 1977 and remained in charge until 1998. In that time he was the founding chairman of Rally New Zealand and competed in the event in the late 1970s and early 1980s, his best result in the WRC being ninth. In 1998 he was appointed to the World Motorsport Council and in July 2006 was given the role of president of the World Rally Championship Commission and promoted to FIA Vice President.

As an aside, it is worth noting that the FIA has announced that Anthony Scrivener QC will undertake a full analysis of the evidence relating to allegations in the News of the World that Mosley was involved in "Nazi style" activities during a recent orgy in London. His finding may be available to the member clubs on June 3. Scrivener is a judge on the FIA International Court of Appeal. He studied law at Grays Inn in London in the same era as Mosley, although there is no obvious evidence to suggest they knew one another at the time.

It is not clear why this is important, as the fact that Mosley was caught in a sex scandal is really the important issue, not whether the scandal involved dressing up in weird clothing or undergoing strange examinations.