Motorsport governing body the FIA responded to reported sexist comments made by its president Mohammed Ben Sulayem on his personal website in 2001 by saying they “do not reflect his beliefs.”
Ben Sulayem was quoted in a British newspaper on Friday as writing 22 years ago that he “does not like women who think they are smarter than men.”
Ben Sulayem’s comment on his archived website from 2001 was revealed by The Times newspaper.
Asked for a response, the FIA said Ben Sulayem has “a strong record in promoting women and equality in sport, which he is happy to be judged on” and that this was a “central part of his manifesto.” The 61-year-old Emirati, a former rally driver, took over as FIA president from long-serving Jean Todt in December 2021.
The FIA spokesperson added: “The remarks in this archived website from 2001 do not reflect the president’s beliefs.”
Natalie Robyn was appointed the FIA CEO last September and Tanya Kutsenko was appointed as the FIA’s first equality, diversion and inclusion adviser.
Ben Sulayem has bee grabbing headlines the past week
This week, Ben Sulayem drew attention for comments made on his Twitter account about F1’s sale value.
“As the custodians of motorsport, the FIA, as a non-profit organisation, is cautious about alleged inflated price tags of $20bn being put on F1,” he tweeted on Monday. “Any potential buyer is advised to apply common sense, consider the greater good of the sport and come with a clear, sustainable plan – not just a lot of money.”
The comments reportedly prompted F1 owner Liberty Media to write a letter of complaint to the FIA’s world motorsport council.
Last December, the FIA forbid drivers across all of its racing series from the “making and display of political, religious and personal statements or comments” unless having prior permission, for the purposes of neutrality.
The London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy wrote directly to Ben Sulayem this week to address the issue.
Criticism ramping up on drivers’ political statements ban
The letter, which was shared with the Associated Press, said they had “concerns over the FIA’s ban on political statements made by drivers introduced on 19 December 2022. We believe this will suppress the freedom of speech of Formula One drivers and teams and prevent them from making their voice heard on key issues including human rights and racism.
“This move appears to be a reaction to drivers, in particular Lewis Hamilton, raising their concerns about the locations chosen for F1 races, including the human rights records of host countries and making powerful interventions where your own organisation has been silent.”
The seven-time F1 champion Hamilton and four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel have been the most vocal drivers in speaking against human rights abuses and racism and supporting the rights of the LBGT community.
F1 drivers all wore “End Racism” T-shirts and most took a knee before the grand prix in Austria in 2020 and continued to do so. Later in 2020, Hamilton received personally addressed letters from three alleged torture victims in Bahrain ahead of a race there.
The 2023 season starts in Bahrain on March 5. (Reporting by Jerome Pugmire, Additional reporting by GrandPrix247)