First Blood: Controversy heats up in FIA presidential campaign

You didn't seriously think that the race to succeed Max Mosley as FIA president would be entirely clean, did you? The head office of the international automobile federation has been the subject of more controversy than a G8 meeting, so it only stands to reason that the campaign to fill its vacancy would follow suit. And here's the first blood.

Ari Vatanen, the former rally champion and European parliamentarian running for the position, has accused the FIA of financially supporting the campaign of his rival Jean Todt. The former Ferrari chief has already received the support of outgoing president Max Mosley, but Vatanen pointed towards flights paid for by the federation's non-profit wing, the FIA Foundation, as evidence of favoritism. The FIA Foundation in turn says that Todt was merely accompanying his partner, actress Michelle Yoeh, in her work as a goodwill ambassador for the foundation's road safety campaign, and rebuked Vatanen for politicizing the project and tarnishing the NGO's reputation.

One way or another, it's clear that the campaign will be a heated one, and if Vatanen wins, he'll have some diplomacy work on his hands to patch things up with the non-profit branch of the organization over which he'll be presiding. Follow the jump to read the full letter from the chairman of the FIA Foundation.

[Source: FIA Foundation via Autosport | Image: Mark Thompson/Getty]
Letter from the Chairman of the FIA Foundation to Mr Ari Vatanen

Following comments in the media concerning the FIA Foundation attributed to Mr Ari Vatanen, the Chairman of the FIA Foundation, Carlos Macaya, has today sent the following letter to Mr Vatanen:

To: Mr Ari Vatanen

21st July 2009

Dear Ari

I am writing in my capacity as Chairman of the FIA Foundation to express my concern at your reported remarks about Michelle Yeoh and the allegation that in some way we are funding Jean Todt's candidacy to be President of the FIA. A number of websites have included as quotes from you the following:

"At the expense of the FIA Foundation, Jean goes with a private plane with his girlfriend, supposedly as a FIA representative, to various parts of the world, sometimes he has gone to Asia, sometimes to Canada, sometimes to Buenos Aires, whatever. In fact, he is doing a campaign totally supported and paid by the FIA".

These assertions are totally false. For the last two years Jean Todt's partner, the internationally acclaimed actress Michelle Yeoh, has served in a voluntary capacity as the global Ambassador for the Make Roads Safe campaign which is co-ordinated by the FIA Foundation. In this role Michelle has travelled all over the world to support the campaign especially in advance of this year's first ever global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety to be held in Moscow on November 19-20. A centrepiece of her involvement has been the production of a documentary film, Turning Point, which was broadcast worldwide in May on BBC World TV and also featured at the launch of the Commission for Global Road Safety's new report calling for a UN Decade of Action.

This month Michelle participated in the Make Roads Safe Africa conference held in Dar es Salaam, speaking alongside four African Ministers of Transport and also meeting with the President of Tanzania. This important event has been the main preparatory meeting for African governments for the Moscow Ministerial and was attended by over 300 delegates across the continent. These included FIA mobility and sport clubs from Africa which took the opportunity of being in Dar es Salaam to hold additional meetings with support from the FIA Foundation. I have attached follow up emails from David Njoroge and Surinder Thatthi which give you their unsolicited and highly positive opinion of the outcome of these meetings.

Jean Todt sometimes accompanies Michelle Yeoh on her trips for the FIA Foundation. He does so when he has another task to fulfil. In Dar es Salaam, for example, a workshop was organised for ASNs on motor sport safety issues which was financed by the Motor Sport Safety Fund. Jean is a member of the Management Committee of this Fund and attended in that capacity. As you know Jean Todt was elected President of eSafety Aware earlier this year and in that role is helping to promote intelligent vehicle safety systems such as Electronic Stability Control.

All these engagements are very helpful to the work of the Foundation and demonstrate the strong commitment of both Michelle and Jean to our work promoting road safety. These activities have nothing whatsoever to do with the FIA, or the recently announced election. It is very disappointing that you have chosen to misrepresent the work of a fellow Trustee in this way and belittle the magnificent contribution being made by Michelle Yeoh. I am also surprised that you do not seem to be aware of the truth of their involvement as their activities have been extensively reported to you at successive meetings of the Board of Trustees of the FIA Foundation of which you are a member.

I appreciate that during the forthcoming election for the FIA Presidency there needs to be open and robust debate. However, I would ask that you do not again misrepresent the role of the FIA Foundation in this way.

Yours sincerely

Carlos Macaya
Chairman, FIA Foundation

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