The reports today in the media about match-fixing in the world of tennis should be seen as an alarm bell to all sporting federations that they need to be very careful about their integrity, their governance and their structures. At the moment, thanks to the adventures over the years of FIFA, the IOC and the IAAF, it is more or less assumed that all sporting federations are pretty dodgy, whether there is any evidence to back that up or not.
Let me say straight away that the FIA is clearly a lot better than most, although its commercial arrangements with the Formula One group should really be made public, so that everyone can see what is going on.
I want to see the sport that I am involved in being an example to other sports, showing how things can be done correctly. That would be brilliant. Fundamentally, I don’t think that there are any FIFA- or IOC-style goings-on at the FIA. If there is dodgy business, it is very well hidden and having studied the system for many years I see little evidence to suggest that people are stealing money or anything along those lines. Obviously it is hard to be sure about every single member club, but I see no evidence of any such things within the central FIA organisation.
However, I do feel that there is still way too much patronage. I think that people should be selected to important positions on the grounds of merit, rather than because they are representatives of strategically important clubs and these jobs provide them with power and privilege. I know that politics is politics, but things would be so much more efficient if the most talented people are in the important roles. Perhaps the nature of clubs make that an impossible dream, but that does not mean that one ought not to strive for it. I do see an improvement in the quality of race officials across the board, which is another good thing.
There are also questions in my mind about transparency, There is nothing wrong with transparency – if one is doing nothing wrong. The fact that there is often not transparency is in itself a reason to ask questions. There may be nothing at all to hide, but in which case, why are things hidden? The best thing that the FIA can do is to create fully transparent operations, with accounts that are available on the website to anyone who wants them. Election structures have been improved, but should be loosened still further and there really ought to be some kind of freedom of information statute.
If the FIA is not supposed to be involved in any commercial dealings, then there is no reason to need to hide agreements. If the federation has ambitions to have a commercial operations, then it should create something called FIA Enterprises and have it operating independently of the federation itself. These things are done in other sports and can easily be done in the motorsport as well. I am sure that there are good reasons for the current situation where there are two parallel entities in different countries: an FIA in France and an FIA in Switzerland, but it would be wise to explain what this is all about, or get rid of one or the other.
Anyway, what is clear to me is that the style of the organisation reflects the leadership and so if the leadership wants to be seen in the best light, it is best for all the cards to be laid on the table. That may not be possible given the attitudes of the older generations, but as we see from the IPO at Ferrari, things change and sports must keep up to speed with society and not try to remain as feudal systems, as some of them have. I do think in the past that we have seen some cases of issues being suppressed or bigged up depending on the parties involved, but I cannot think of anything like that since the Todt administration began. Thus, one has to say that progress has been made in this respect.
On a more specific note, someone asked me today (because of the claims being made in tennis) whether I thought there might be betting-related corruption in F1. I am pleased to be able to say that I cannot think of any cases where I have ever suspected things along those lines. The only time I have ever suspected that there was dodgy business going on – except for the obvious team orders stuff which is quite different – was in Singapore in 2008. It was clear to me that there had been a scam. Felipe Massa saw it too and even went to the Renault pit and told them what he thought. The problem was that if one does not have hard evidence of a transgression then one cannot prove it and that particular scam only came to light a year later when Nelson Piquet Jr confessed to what he had done.
Beyond that I cannot think of anything in the racing itself that suggested any untoward behaviour. I have marvelled at things like Pastor Maldonado’s win for Williams in Spain or Sebastian Vettel’s victory for Toro Rosso at Monza, but I see only unexpected performances. In part I think this is due to the fact that drivers are by nature competitive beings and, as we saw last year with Max Verstappen, they don’t like being told to give away positions. In part it is due to the fact that everything is monitored and so a driver would need to explain why he behaved in a certain way if it does not fit in with the norms of racing flat-out. I can think of times when I thought certain teams were cheating with technical things, but if they did not get caught, there can only be suspicions. Eventually these things almost always come out…
In summary, therefore, I think that the FIA has far fewer problems than many other sporting federations, but can always and should always improve.
Another area where I think improvement is required in is the calendar-making. If other sports can schedule their events in 2022 and even beyond that (as examples, look at the Commonwealth Games in Durban, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar and many other such events such as the Tokyo Winter Olympics, future Superbowls, the Cricket World Cup, Pan American Games and Rugby World Cups. Everything is planned years in advance and I see no reason why the same cannot happen in motorsport. Last-minute calendar-making means that everything is rushed and race promoters, sponsors, competitors and fans get very little time to get organised.
I see also that Jean Todt is saying that people in F1 should feel privileged to do what they do. Believe it or not, we do, but I think it might be a good idea for those who make the calendars to try doing it some time, travelling to and from all 21 races, seated in Economy Class, as most F1 people are. I think that they might alter their views if they understood just what it takes to do it. I don’t doubt that these people do a lot of travelling, but with private jets, chauffeurs and helicopters, life is a great deal easier and I think that they have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, what it is like to do these things the normal way.