Mohammed ben Sulayem has confirmed he will not run in the upcoming FIA presidential elections and will instead throw his considerable support behind incumbent Jean Todt.
The 51-year-old Emirati has been a vice president for sport since 2008 and had been recently urged by several motorsport federations to challenge Todt and David Ward, the former British Labour party policy advisor, for election on December 6.
However, having analysed both candidates’ manifestos, Ben Sulayem said he will back Todt, the Frenchman who has led the governing body for global motorsport since 2009.
“Following careful consideration, I can confirm that I have accepted Jean Todt’s invitation to support his re-election as president of the FIA and to stand for a second term as FIA vice president for sport,” said Ben Sulayem, who is also president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE.
“It is now time to focus on the big issues facing the FIA, including doing what is needed to make the new concorde agreement work for all parties in Formula One, approving a new plan for the World Rally Championship, and giving maximum support to our member clubs to develop and grow motorsport around the world.”
On Friday, Todt faced an FIA ethics committee in Paris, where he defended himself against allegations from Ward that he had used his position as president to travel the globe garnering support and gifting himself an “unfair advantage”. According to The Times, a key element of the inquiry centred on Ward’s assertion that a powerful bloc of South American delegates were “strong-armed” into putting their names to a document they were not at ease with.
During an interview with The National last month, Ben Sulayem said he had told Todt that opposition candidates such as Ward were “important” in order for the FIA to ensure a healthy transparency. “That is what we want,” he said. “We have an ethics committee that is doing its job. We follow the rules. You can’t tell what is going on now, but it will heat up. It heated up before, but it is about the organisation not the personality.”
Ben Sulayem, a 14-time Middle East rally champion, had hinted a presidential election campaign of his own was unlikely. “People say I am ambitious, OK I have ambition, but it is not about me,” he said. “[The presidency] is a big responsibility. You have to be very honest with yourself because once you make that post, you are a public servant officer; you work for the members.”
The Emirati’s decision not to run now also removes any questions regarding whether he would continue in his role as head of an FIA task force charged with plotting a 10-year plan for the development of motorsport worldwide.