UAE motorsport legend hopes to see F1 drivers from Middle East and Africa
FIA Presidential candidate Mohammed ben Sulayem has launched a far-reaching plan to increase diversity and inclusion in motorsport on a global basis. The report is based on research conducted with FIA members in Africa and the Middle East.
The Emirati former rally champion is passionate about giving the opportunity to race, and to be involved on the engineering side, to young men and women from diverse backgrounds.
He believes that a Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) programme run with partners in Formula 1 and other FIA championships can lead to quick results including the doubling of motorsport participation.
“The FIA has made a good start under current president Jean Todt, in promoting women and drivers with disabilities. But we want to take this much further and create opportunities for all regardless of geography, income, gender, culture, age, race, ability,” said Ben Sulayem.
Motor racing is a global phenomenon, followed by millions on television, radio and across social media. Yet the majority of drivers and highly-skilled personnel at race tracks in dozens of countries are mostly European and male. There are hundreds of jobs for technicians and engineers which are still not open to young people from developing countries.
“This year Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and for the first time Saudi Arabia, will host F1 World Championship Grands Prix and yet we have no driver, engineer or team manager from the region among the teams. This needs to change: diversity and inclusion will make motorsport stronger. This shift in thinking and attitude needs to be led by the FIA as the sport’s governing body. If elected we will put in place scholarships for developing countries, which in turn will build capacity,” added Ben Sulayem.
This study is part of the overall FIA For Members electoral campaign led by Ben Sulayem, who is seeking to become the first non-European head of the FIA since it was founded in 1904. The current President Jean Todt steps down in December after twelve years in office. Robert Reid, candidate for the vice-presidency for sport on the Ben Sulayem ticket, stressed the need to provide a fast-track for talent from developing motorsport regions.
“More than 90% of the Federations surveyed felt a talent fast-track scheme would boost the attractiveness of motorsport for young people in their countries,“ explained Reid, himself a former rally world champion, who added the study stressed the need to develop national role models in motorsport like Lewis Hamilton in the UK.
“The report also proves that role models and local heroes are critical. Currently no such scheme exists and we plan to put this in place in our first year in office,” he added.”
If elected, we will appoint an FIA Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager to centrally drive this agenda. It’s important that EDI is part of our strategy and at the heart of decision making, rather than having each individual diverse group trying to fight their own corner, often as an afterthought.
Ben Sulayem also believes the major championships have a big role to play, especially Formula 1.
“They are an important partner and indeed have already allocated funds . But it is only a FIA- led programme that can truly deliver an effective talent development programme from the regions. This in turn will lead to more fans, TV and sponsors in the developing world,” he said.
“It’s crazy that WRC has never had a non-European champion, and F1 has had little representation from Africa, Middle East and Asia,” added Reid.
“We can fix this, and this will give the sport a much bigger gene pool to work with and create opportunities for all backgrounds to get involved, be it as drivers, technicians, engineers and fans.”