Back in October FIA President Jean Todt appeared at a “Stakeholder Consultation” of the United Nations, to be quizzed by road safety organisations about his role as Special Envoy to the UN Secretary -General for Road Safety. This came about because these bodies were worried about apparent clashes of interest between his role as the FIA President and as a Special Envoy to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. These are perfectly reasonable questions and it is odd that no-one in the FIA has raised similar questions.
Because there was not sufficient time to answer all the questions, Todt was asked to provide written answers to further questions and, in the finest tradition of slow-moving big organisations, the answers to those questions were finally delivered to the road safety NGOs last week, three months after the meeting took place.
These answers are now public information and they provide some interesting insights into how the appointment was made.
Asked whether the role of Special Envoy was governed by United Nations rules and regulations, Todt revealed that he was “appointed by the Secretary-General on a $1 per annum contract”. This means that legally he is a member of the UN staff and thus subject to UN staff rules and regulations and the UN’s financial disclosure programme.
Asked about “the inherent conflict of interest” in representing the interests of motoring organizations and motor car users and those of pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable users of public transport systems, Todt said that he will “maintain a distinction that separates his role as Special Envoy from his role as President of FIA” with the use of “an extra-budgetary secretariat”. He also said that he saw his role as all-encompassing and said that “he is not bound to agree or conform with the views expressed by individual FIA member clubs, especially where this might conflict with interests of other road safety stakeholders”. Be that as it may, as FIA President is the foremost spokesman of the federation and his utterances should reflect the views of the majority, whether he agrees with them or not.
Asked about how he will avoid campaigning for his FIA re-election when travelling, he said that this was not the business of the UN and that “any travel or activities undertaken in his capacity as FIA President are matters for the FIA”. He said that he has not yet decided whether or not to stand for re-election in 2017.
Asked whether it was appropriate for the UN Special Envoy to use FIA paraphernalia and branding when traveling on UN business, he said that he would carry out his role and responsibilities according to “the highest ethical standards of the United Nations” and said that “it is incumbent on the Special Envoy to clarify in which capacity he is addressing an event or undertaking a mission in order to make a clear distinction” between his roles.
A key question that also came up was with regard to how Todt would deal with the sponsors in Formula 1, specifically alcohol and car companies. Todt said that the FIA’s role in motor sport “is as a regulator and governing body for global championships. The commercial interests of the Commercial Rights Holder of Formula 1 are completely separated from the FIA’s regulatory power”. He did say that the FIA enters into “selected partnership arrangements with some private stakeholders under the banner of its Action for Road Safety campaign” but added that this does not include any alcohol companies.
There are interesting subtleties in these last answers as it is very clear that the FIA is currently dependent for its funding on the Formula One group – and has been for many years.
At the FIA General Assembly in December Todt made much of the financial success of the FIA during his presidency, but did not explain that this was substantially the result of an agreement he had made with the Formula One group that increased the federation’s revenues significantly and resulted in the FIA buying a one percent shareholding in the Formula One group. Clearly this shareholding has no real influence over “the commercial interests” but it is an interesting argument as to whether there is really a complete separation of roles. This is a question that may come up again if the European Union Competition Directorate start looking at the structure of F1 in the future, as may soon happen.
It should also be pointed out that the FIA is engaged in some very ambitious moves to increase its commercial involvement in (and revenue from) its other championships, but as the NGOs asked specifically about F1 this question did not need to be addressed.
However, when all is said and done, combining the roles of FIA President and Special Envoy to the UN Secretary-General is rather more complex a business than is really necessary and tiptoeing through the minefield of potential problems cannot be the most efficient way to do business and there is always the chance that there will be a head-on collision between the two jobs. One can argue that it would probably be wiser if the FIA President did one role or the other, rather than trying to do both.