• The Inside Line

And the gloves are off

ESPN Staff
September 23, 2013
FIA presidential candidate David Ward has publicly criticised Jean Todt © Sutton Images
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I've always loved American politics. There's something about the high stakes, the mud-slinging, and the seemingly decade-long presidential campaigns that turns the democratic process into a soap opera. But there's sense in the high drama when it comes to the road to the White House. After all, the eventual occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will be The Leader of the Free World™.

When it comes to the FIA presidency, however, that 'all guns blazing' campaign style feels somewhat excessive.

The FIA president is an important figure on the global stage, thanks to the Federation's work in countless non-sporting initiatives including but not limited to road safety, sustainable motoring, automotive standards, and fuel economy, but it is still a limited role. An FIA president's remit is automobiles, not taxation, health care, and defence.

David Ward landed the first blow in the FIA elections when he used a press release to accuse incumbent Jean Todt of "using FIA resources to try to predetermine the election outcome," something the Briton said was "a serious violation of the FIA's rules, regulations and ethical code".

Ward's complaint - which he put to the FIA Ethics Committee - centred on what the Briton alleged was Todt's misuse of a Region IV meeting that took place in Uruguay in March 2013, attended by the FIA president and club officials from 23 FIA member clubs based in Latin and South America. The meeting resulted in a letter of support for Todt's then-unconfirmed run for re-election.

Whatever validity there might be in Ward's complaint - and that is for the FIA Ethics Committee, not the media, to determine - to raise the matter in a press release was always going to be a risky manoeuvre. Ward claimed first blood, basking in the glow of favourable press coverage, but there was always the chance that the decision would turn around and bite him in the arse.

Which is what looks to have happened, thanks to a letter written to Ward - and circulated to every member of the FIA - by Jorge Tomasi Crisci, president of the Automobile Club of Uruguay and host of the controversial March meeting. According to Crisci, Ward's allegations of Todt's poor ethics are both uninformed and offensive.

"I want to express my displeasure about the claims commented to the press about the above mentioned meeting," Crisci wrote. "…you claim in the press that the club presidents were pressured to sign a support letter for [Todt's] continuation heading the FIA. THIS WAS NOT IN THIS WAY, you have been misinformed, it is offensive for the participants, putting into question either their behaviour or personality.

"In the course of the meeting, we discussed among all the attendees the future wanted for the FIA and we reached the unanimous conclusion of the importance of the continuity of Mr. Todt as President of the FIA," the letter continued. "That is why we agree altogether to give him a letter expressing our support, in the case he presents for a second period."

Most awkwardly for Ward, Crisci uses the letter to remind the presidential hopeful that his distaste for letters of support is a recent Damascene conversion, bringing into question the tenor of the Briton's personal ethics.

"A separate paragraph for the ethical concerns you mention about the support given by the letter delivered to President Todt," Crisci wrote. "… A similar document was given to Jean Todt in the year 2009 in Mexico, known as the 'Agreement of Puebla'. In that electoral process, where you supported the candidacy of Todt, and according to your words, 'you are proud for [sic] have played a key role for his electoral success'. The mentioned document did not deserve any public objection on your side."

As Thomas Jefferson so memorably said, "Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct."

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