Richard Rae: Arrogant, ignorant and incompetent: Todt should resign
The FIA's decision to reinstate the Bahrain race can only have been based on more than wilful stupidity - a hugely depressing thought
Thursday 09 June 2011
For most Formula One supporters, the arrogance demonstrated by the FIA in reinstating the Bahrain Grand Prix in the first place, and believing it could get away with that decision, was probably to be expected if not excused.
Actually, it would be something of a relief if some sort of bovine conviction that it knew best was the only reason why motorsport's governing body chose to ignore both the evidence of human-rights abuse, provided by countless reliable independent sources, and the sensibilities of just about everyone who has any feeling for the sport.
Unfortunately it is simply not possible to believe the organisation to be quite so self-absorbed and detached from reality that it did not anticipate the opprobrium that it has caused to rain down on Formula One. The decision can only have been based on more than wilful stupidity, and that is a hugely depressing thought.
Of course Formula One's availability to the highest bidder is nothing new. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the FIA – and Bernie Ecclestone, for all that the sport's commercial rights controller appears to be now attempting to present himself as on the side of the appalled fans – believed there was no moral line which couldn't be crossed.
Equally, it is possible to understand those who maintain that moral line to be artificial, arbitrary and entirely subjective, and that if the sport is still going to places such as China and Turkey, where regular abuses of human rights are documented fact, there is no logical reason not to travel to Bahrain. There is at least some sort of intellectual honesty to their argument.
But there was nothing remotely intellectually honest about the FIA's attempt to justify returning to Bahrain. Jean Todt has been relatively inoffensive since he replaced Max Mosley as president of the Paris-based organisation, but the Frenchman's attempt to argue the decision had some sort of evidential basis was nauseating.
Nor did there appear to be any consideration of the problems running the race on 30 October and shifting the inaugural India Grand Prix to December would present to the thousands of fans who have already bought their tickets and made their travel arrangements to visit India. Or the extraordinary additional difficulties it would create for the organisers of that race.
Todt did not even appear to be aware of the rules drawn up by his own organisation which, as Mosley later pointed out, require the written consent of the teams for the calendar to be changed.
Arrogant, ignorant and incompetent. If Todt had the best interests of the sport at heart, rather than his own, he would now resign, but that is not how it works. Like Sepp Blatter at Fifa, the powerbase built by the former Ferrari team principal means he is effectively untouchable.
There was much satirical comment 18 months ago when he was elected to succeed Mosley by the FIA General Assembly, which consists of some 221 motoring and sporting organisations from 132 countries, ahead of Finland's former world rally champion Ari Vatanen. One independent F1 website suggested the contest had been criticised for its lack of transparency by the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il.
There is one small consolation. Todt and Ecclestone thought they could get away with anything, but in the end the FIA will bow to the money, as it always does, which means principles will indeed have played a part.
It is the pressure put on sponsors by the ordinary fans which has shifted the ground, the nascent campaigns to persuade fans not to buy Red Bull drinks or Michelin tyres or Hugo Boss clothes, or to watch the race on the BBC, which will have made the difference.
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