Smoking U-turn: How Blair's ear was bent by the king of Formula One

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The Independent Online
Formula One racing was exempted from a tobacco sponsorship ban after lobbying by a former Labour aide, it emerged last night. Fran Abrams and Katherine Butler reveal Tony Blair met motor racing officials after representations from David Ward, an adviser to the labour leader John Smith until his death in 1994, who now works for the sport's governing body.

The Prime Minister had "numerous" meetings with leading Formula One officials, Mr Ward said last night. They attended a Downing Street reception as well as meeting Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Health, and Tony Banks, the sports minister.

Some other sports which received less favourable treatment said that although they corresponded with ministers about the ban, they only met officials.

Mr Ward left the Labour Party to work as a consultant in Brussels after Mr Smith's death and now works exclusively for the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, which among other things acts as a governing body for motor sport. He said he did not believe he received special treatment, though he added that the Government's decision came in response to a proposal from FIA, of which he is European director general.

"Of course it is helpful that I know a lot of the individuals, but ... the Government said when they announced this that they wanted to consult with all the relevant parties. We have simply taken up the offer. I am sure a lot of other sporting bodies have done that. I don't think there has been any special favour to me," he said.

The president of the FIA, Max Mosley, has met Mr Blair and so has Bernie Eccleston, founder of the Formula One Constructors' Association.

A proposal made to ministers last month by the FIA argued that a European ban on tobacco sponsorship would simply drive Formula One events to the Far East - an argument which has been accepted by ministers. It also adds that the body would be happy to help cut tobacco sponsorship of Formula One through a voluntary scheme.

Mr Ward pointed out that neither he nor his organisation received any money from tobacco sponsorship, although Formula One events are backed by it.

Last night representatives of other sports expressed anger at the contrast between their treatment and that of Formula One. Robert Holmes, spokesman for the British Darts Organisation, said he believed the motor sport had received preferential treatment. "At the last meeting I attended about this the FIA were not represented. The other affected sports were looking to make a united stance on this but we were told they were having their own meeting," he said.

John Redwood, the Conservatives' Trade and Industry spokesman, said: "The Labour government has to explain to other sports why they weren't treated similarly to Formula One. It is not the only sport which is global."

The Government's decision to press for Formula One to be left out of a Europe-wide sponsorship and advertising ban also angered EU commissioners, who said the whole exercise might be killed off by it. Padraig Flynn, the EU's commissioner in charge of health policy, telephoned Mrs Jowell on Tuesday night to protest. "Why not snooker, why not basketball? This is nonsensical" said Barbara Nolan, commission health policy spokeswoman.

But a Downing Street spokesman last night said Mr Blair had met Mr Mosley and Mr Eccleston on 16 October. Motor racing provided 50,000 high-skilled and 150,000 part-time jobs and had an export value of pounds 900m, he added.

"If we didn't table amendments to the directive we would be in a position where Formula One, being a global sport, would clearly go to Eastern Europe or the Far East and would be beamed back into Britain with more advertising," he said.