News and views on motorsports

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sanctions and Licenses

Interesting story on caught my eye today. To summarize, the Toro Rosso drivers Vitantonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed have been prohibited from taking part in the forthcoming Supernationals X kart race in Las Vegas. The organisers of the race Superkarts USA have been advised by the FIA that both Liuzzi and Speed would stand to lose their superlicenses if they proceed with participation.

Wow. The similarities between the FIA and their worldwide affiliates, specifically their Malaysian ASN, are indeed striking. Allow me to elaborate further. You see, Superkarts USA are not affiliated with the FIA. This means that races organised by Superkarts USA are not sanctioned by the FIA. And the FIA it would seem frowns upon drivers competing in these non-sanctioned events. In this case, both Liuzzi and Speed who do hold FIA licenses have been told that their licenses would be docked if they did.

The question is, why should the FIA prohibit drivers from other motorsports competition? Even ones that do not fall under their jurisdiction. In Malaysia, we have had extensive experience of this type of phenomenon. The local ASN in Malaysia is the Automobile Association of Malaysia (AAM). Competitors (both the rich and well connected and the poor and anonymous), race organisers and though they would surely deny it, even the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) management are united in their hatred for the AAM. Just like its international parent, this is a very closed, autocratic and very domineering organisation run by the very egotistical. Curiously, their tagline is "Your No. 1 Motoring Friend in Malaysia." Uhuh.

But unlike the FIA, the AAM have been accused of doing very little to champion the cause of motorsports in the country. But if you run any motoring event, then they love to make it their business to take part in it, under the guise of safety (but in actual fact contributing very little to this). Oh and of course, not forgetting charging exorbitant sanction fees which they insist on doing whether you like it or not. Many a race organiser have felt their heavy handedness. And that ladies and gents, includes the SIC. Heh heh.

Even when a race organiser has obtained proper permits from local authorities and in some cases, even encouraged to do so by the local authorities, the AAM insist on stepping in. In some cases, they have even attempted to totally stop the event from taking place. AAM officials have been known to attend these events and attempted to lay down the law and in the most overbearing manner you could think of. I think that that is a little more than arrogant on their part. But thankfully, most events do manage to happen despite their best efforts to put an end to it.

On the flip side, drivers who do hold AAM (FIA) competition licenses are afraid of competing in these non-sanctioned events. The AAM, just like the FIA, have been known to issue threats to these drivers. Compete and you will stand to lose your licenses. And this happens to the dismay of many competitors. Racers being racers, any form of motorsport competition is good. Even drag and drift events. No harm in participating and its all good fun. The effect of these prohibitions are that most of these smaller events are missing the top drivers.

I say "smaller" because of the size and budgets of the organisers. But in actual fact, attendances at these local events far outstrip any AAM sanctioned race bar the Malaysian Grand Prix and the Cub Prix. Just check out the Saturday night drift events at the Elite Karting circuit and you'll know why. The MME organisers would kill for crowds like that.

The big question is why? Why should the FIA and its affiliates stop licensed competitors from competing in non-sanctioned events? Of course, they have the power to do so and its within their rights as license issuers. But is it fair? Perhaps someone could enlighten me as to their reasons. The official line from the AAM is on the grounds of safety. The AAM ensures the proper safety of competitors and spectators. Hmmm..... I should like to ask Eric Yeo (a local racer) whether he thought the Jugra event at Shah Alam was... "safe" what with that misplaced pole lying about on the circuit making a hole on his windscreen and poking right through the passenger side?

I should think the average drift or drag event is no more dangerous than say rallying, which is sanctioned. So why the big fuss? We could test it on the assumption of legal liability. The FIA and affiliates are recognised as the authorities on motorsports and motoring in general. One could, not unreasonably then, that legal indemnity and insurance is easier to obtain should a race be sanctioned by them. However, any event organiser worth his two cents would remember to paste disclaimers on tickets and signboards. And so far, no local race organiser I know of has failed to obtain insurance cover for their events, whether these be sanctioned or not. Especially since all organisers obtain permits from the police and local councils and have firemen and ambulances on standby.

Whilst insurance and indemnities do cover financial liability, there is also the question of possible criminal liability due to negligence. There really hasn't been a case as yet in Malaysia and none that I can think of world wide but to cover such cases, it is perhaps wiser for organisers to have their events sanctioned and then if anything went wrong, the FIA can and must step in for it would be their responsibility already. But surely an organisation such as Superkarts USA would already have thought about this. And surely any number of insurance companies who have provided cover for non-sanctioned events are also aware of these risks.

As for the driver's safety... well, motorsport in any form and in any event is inherently a dangerous activity. Any competitors knows this and deals with it appropriately. But really, even the London Marathon has been know to suffer fatalities.

At the end of the day, I know Max Mosley is incredibly obsessed with safety and that is a good thing. I'm not sure if the FIA affiliates are quite so passionate. To the cynics, affiliates such the AAM are only interested in the enormous sanctioning fees. You may ask, why not simply pay them? Well, with the prices they charge most organisers simply could not afford it, particularly since these organisers charge very little entrance fees. Such fees would then need to be covered by higher entrance charges that in the end keep the crowds away.

In the case of Superkarts USA, they did attempt to make their Las Vegas event sanctioned by the CIK but this, for whatever reason, simply did not happen. And as such the two Toro Rosso drivers have been forced to exclude themselves. But this is a pity for fans in the USA. And I'm sure Liuzzi and Speed would have welcomed the opportunity for a little bit of fun.

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