JUNE 3, 2008

The judgement of history

The decision by the FIA General Assembly to support Max Mosley paints the federation in a very poor light, at least in the eyes of the general public. A large number of people in this world believe that married men should not break their vows and involve themselves with lurid sexual games, involving uniformed dominatrices. They believe that personal betrayals of trust are not something that should be ignored because it is in one's private life, but rather should be seen as an indication of the character of the person concerned. If one follows this logic, it is clear that Max Mosley is not a man who can be trusted. He admits that he did what he did. What he does not do is admit his own responsibility. It is, in his mind, someone else's fault that he was caught with his trousers literally around his ankles when in reality he is to blame for having put himself in that position. Whether it is written in the statutes or not, the people who elected Mosley expected him not to get mixed up in such scandals. If they had suspected such things it is unlikely that he would have ever been elected president. The fact that he was caught means that he cannot really fulfil the functions of the president and so the two deputy-presidents must stand in for him.

The vote may give the impression that the clubs are condoning Mosley's behaviour but, having spoken to a number of the delegates it is clear that many of those who voted for Mosley did not like the sex scandal that has done dreadful damage to the reputation of the federation. Many believe that Mosley should have been more responsible and feel that he has shown very poor judgement in this respect.

But the fact remains that they also believe (rightly or wrongly) that the FIA has been under attack and that it is their primary duty to defend the federation rather than burying Mosley, as perhaps they should have done. Several delegates said that the institution is more important than any individual or any issue and that if Mosley has survived it is only because they are defending the federation rather than the man himself.

"Today, the full membership of the FIA, both motoring and motor sport, were given the opportunity to express their views on the future of the FIA President," said Richard Woods, FIA Director of Communications. "They exercised their democratic right by way of secret ballot and a decisive majority confirmed their confidence in the President and his mandate. The view repeated time and time again from the members during the Assembly was a categoric rejection of what they felt had been a deliberate attempt to destabilise both him and the FIA. The vote was not a comment on the President's private life but a confirmation that the decision making of the FIA must never be manipulated by external forces who may attempt to undermine its independent authority."

By going down this road the FIA clubs are risking a split in their own number as the big touring clubs are very unhappy and may yet decide to walk away and start their own parallel federation, leaving the FIA as a shadow of its former self with a membership which could end up being a fraction of its current size and a far weaker voice in business and politics.

Both sides argue that democracy is important, but they disagree on what democracy means. The big clubs says that individual members should count while Mosley's men argue that it should be one vote per club, in order to protect the smaller clubs from being dominated by the larger ones. They add that the 50m members of the American Automobile Association do not care about the Mosley Scandal and that no-one has canvassed the motorists to see what they think. This is true, but it is also true that no-one has asked the licence holders of the sporting clubs if they think their federation should support Mosley.

Whatever the story, Mosley remains in office with a mandate to complete his term of office. The FIA may hold together in the short term but could then come apart at the next election if the sporting interests remain in control. The trick will be to find someone who can hold all the clubs together and keep everyone happy. What that will entail is a man who will compromise rather than adopting an aggressive approach. Bernie Ecclestone said before the vote that Mosley will go for re-election in 2009 if he won today, despite what he has said.

Ecclestone may be right. If that happens then the idea that the vote today was a defensive one will be proved not to be true and it will all have been a case of Mosley doing anything he could to hang on to power. Overseeing a transition is one thing, continuing on regardless of what has happened is quite another.

Some clearly already doubt Mosley's motives. The problem is that it is impossible to say whether the FIA would be facing such a mess if Mosley had stood down on the first day of the scandal and it will probably be some time before that can be properly assessed.

One way or the other history will ultimately judge those who made the decision today, just as it will one day judge Mosley.

One can only hope that in the interim all this business does not have a negative effect on the sport.