An investigation by ITV News has uncovered that Formula One profits are being handed to the Syrian government. Over the last the past three years, the sports governing body the FIA has handed the Syria\n Automobile Club.
The FIA has one hundred and forty-three motoring and motorsport clubs across 143 countries. They all wield power because under the FIA statutes only one motorsport club, known as an Autorité Sportive Nationale (ASN), in each country can vote at its annual general meeting. It means that small countries have the same say as far larger ones.
In 2014, the FIA launched a grant programme with formula one fees, these grants are aimed as “a new source of funding for National Sporting Authorities” and state that the fund “is dedicated to developing motor sport and helping to strengthen ASNs.”
Applications are open to all FIA clubs and the Syrian Automobile Club (SAC) has taken full advantage of this by successfully applying for a grant in each of the past three years. The Syrian grant was to build a “fully functioning intensive care unit ambulance to be available for its sporting events, as well as the future rescue training programmes that the organisation would be involved in.”
They add that the project “involved repairing and painting the vehicle, equipping it with all necessary medical kit and appointing and training the six drivers, paramedics and doctors – two of each – that would be needed to safely and correctly operate the vehicle at motorsport events.”
A recent grant was for the “purchase of timing equipment and karts and associated officials training and re-launch of karting races.” The FIA documents add that this involves the organisation of two or three races each featuring 15 drivers.
What isn’t clear is how much money was paid out, but the maxium amount can be €150,000. This isn’t its only source of funding.
In 2014 the state news agency reported that rallycross championship on a dirt track in the Damascus countryside was organised by the SAC in cooperation with Syria’s Ministry of Tourism.
The following year SANA reported that the Ministry of Tourism and the SAC joined forces again to organise Syria’s first drift championship where drivers deliberately slide cars around corners on a twisting track.
Tourism minister Bishr Yazigi, said at the event “reflects the strong will of the Syrians and their ability to be renewable and to continue their normal life.”
He added that “the Ministry of Tourism supports and encourages everything that could deliver a true image about the Syrians who are still practising their works, activities and hobbies despite of the fierce war launched against them by the enemies of humanity.”
The European Union has place sanctions on Yazigi, barred from entering the EU and his assets in Europe have been frozen. EU filings state that there are restrictions against him because he “shares responsibility for the regime’s violent repression against the civilian population.”
While this funding appears fully legitimate as the SAC and its president are not under any sanctions. The FIA documents explain the hoops that applicants have to jump through.
An FIA spokesperson said: “The grants provided to the Syrian Automobile Club are part of the FIA Grant Programme which has benefited over 101 countries and have helped ASNs to develop and improve safety standards.
“The current sanctions in place against Syria have been closely examined and the FIA does not believe that in paying these grants to the Syrian Automobile Club, any sanctions have been broken.”
“The FIA is committed to deal with its members in a non-discriminatory, non-political manner, as laid down in its statutes.” The spokesperson said the sports governing body remains committed to promoting sport through peace.
Adding “The Syrian Automobile Club has worked very hard to keep motorsport going in this war-ravaged country and we look forward to seeing motorsport in the region helping development and peace through sport.”