Out of the blue comes news that the Qatar Motorcycle and Motor Federation (QMMF) has replaced Nasser Khalifa Al Attiyah, its president, who is also the FIA Vice President in charge of the Middle East, and a key ally of Jean Todt in FIA politics. He has been replaced in the role QMMF role by Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Latif Al Mannai. He has raced motorcycles in the past.
The news is a surprise given that Al Attiyah political muscle in the country. He is also a Vice President of FIM, the world motorcycling federation. He was a key figure in the last FIA elections, rumours suggesting that he played a big role in stopping Mohammed Ben Sulayem of the UAE standing against Todt in the FIA election. A sign of his influence in the FIA was the fact that the FIA’s annual congress was held in Qatar a couple of months ago and that a round of the World Touring Car Championship was given to Qatar last year. There was even some fairly serious talk about the country getting a Grand Prix, alongside the events that are held in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.
No-one seems to know why Al Attiyah has been replaced but it is being linked in some circles to questions about alleged support of radical Islamic groups by members of his family. Others have hinted that Qatar wants new faces in charge of its sports organisations as there will soon be international scrutiny on the country after the forthcoming FIFA elections, to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter. Once the election is over, there are expected to be calls for the cancellation of the 2022 Qatar World Cup and a new selection process, on the basis that the original decision makes no sense at all (given the climate and limited soccer traditions in Qatar) and the allegations that members of the FIFA Executive Committee were paid to vote for Qatar. The FIFA elections are on February 26 in Zurich.
Changing sporting heads in Qatar should mean that questions will not be asked about other sports, but it does create an interesting situation in FIA politics because Todt will need to find a new regional head. It is unlikely that he wants Mohammed Ben Sulayem back and the only other logical choice would be Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the Bahraini, who is currently head of the international karting federation, the only other Middle Eastern delegate on the World Motorsport Council. He prefers to have a low profile but many think that he is simply biding his time and will one day take on a bigger role in the federation.