x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Mohammed Ben Sulayem considers challenging Jean Todt for FIA presidency

Mohammed ben Sulayem confirms he is on verge of running for FIA presidency.

Mohammed ben Sulayem. Pawan Singh / The National
Mohammed ben Sulayem. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Mohammed Ben Sulayem confirmed last night that he is contemplating running in the upcoming FIA presidential elections, a decision that could make the Emirati the most powerful man in world motorsports.

Ben Sulayem, 51, is president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and has been a vice-president for sport at the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile since 2008.

It is now understood, however, that he is preparing to run against presidential incumbent Jean Todt, the Frenchman who has led the governing body for global motorsport since October 2009.

Todt has already started campaigning for re-election, while David Ward, a former UK Labour Party policy adviser, announced earlier this month his intentions to stand in opposition. The election is in December.

Ward has been outspoken in his criticism of Todt and written to the FIA’s ethics committee regarding his rival’s conduct. It has been suggested, however, that Ward will withdraw his candidacy and that Ben Sulayem will replace him on the ballot. Ward would likely stay involved, using his seasoned canvassing experience to aid the Emirati’s campaign.

A spokesperson told The National last night that Ben Sulayem plans to assess the two candidates’ platforms before deciding whether to announce his candidacy. He will attend today’s World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia, where he will gauge what level of backing he can expect from national motorsport authorities (ASNs) and WMSC members.

“Dr Ben Sulayem is aware of the speculation regarding the FIA presidency and it can be confirmed that he has been contacted in recent weeks by a number of ASNs from around the world, who have expressed a desire for him to run as a candidate,” the spokesperson said.

“At this stage, he has seen David Ward’s manifesto and has now asked to see Jean Todt’s manifesto. Any decision he makes after that will be based on what is best for the FIA going forward.”

Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One supremo, is also expected to attend today’s meeting. He told German newspaper Auto Motor und Sport recently that Ward’s candidature “has opened the door for other potential candidates”, adding: “They’ll say, ‘If he can, I can too’. We don’t know how many [candidates] there will be in the end. There’s still time to submit a nomination.”

Ben Sulayem, a Dubai resident, commands respect both from those in race suits and those in business suits. A winner of the Middle East Rally Championship a record 14 times between 1986 and 2002, he was also appointed the first Arab vice-president of the FIA in 2008, during the tenure of former president Max Mosley.

In February, Ben Sulayem presented a comprehensive plan to develop motorsport in the Middle East and North Africa at the regional congress in Qatar, which was attended by Todt. Five months later, Todt announced Ben Sulayem would head an FIA task force charged with plotting the development of global motorsports over the next decade.

Since then, he has travelled to Argentina to present in front of the FIA’s Latin American congress as well as Botswana, where he met African member clubs.

At this afternoon’s WSMC meeting in Croatia, Ben Sulayem is set to help nominate other members to assist him with the task force’s 10-year programme.

With a potential election campaign being prepared, however, the discussions in Dubrovnik may now turn to more pressing matters, that of who best represents the future for a forward-thinking FIA.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae