Yesterday, I talked about Graham Stoker and his campaign to be elected FIA President. Today, it’s time to discuss his opponent for the position, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the first non-European to run for the presidency of motorsport’s international governing body.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem is a 60-year-old retired rally driver from Dubai. He began rallying during the 1980s and eventually made his way into international competition. He was a perennial participant in the production support categories of the World Rally Championship during the 1990s. While only seeing a few class rally victories in the WRC, Ben Sulayem would reign dominant in regional rally competition. He competed in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship throughout his career, winning his first championship in 1986. He retired from the sport in 2002 after winning his 14th championship in the competition.
Ben Sulayem started accruing experience in motorsport administration during his rallying career. In 1991, he founded Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. The cross-country rally over the desert dunes of the emirate remains one of the country’s most prominent motorsport events. It will also be a round of the inaugural World Rally-Raid Championship in 2022.
Ben Sulayem was elected President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE in 2006 and has held the position ever since. In this role, he was instrumental in organizing the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2009. While half of the marshals for the 2009 F1 race had to be flown in from abroad, he instituted programs to recruit and adequately train Emirati and expatriate volunteers in the United Arab Emirates.
The efforts to train marshals have paid off. The FIA had recognized ATCUAE marshals as Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and 2012, specifically from marshaling ability during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and recruitment efforts.
Ben Sulayem himself became an FIA Vice President and World Motor Sport Council Member in 2008. In 2013, he was appointed the chairman of an FIA task force with the goal of growing motorsport globally over the next decade.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s presidential platform titled “FIA For Members” aims to make the FIA a more democratic organization with regional groups given more influence in local decision-making. Again, as I mentioned with Graham Stoker’s campaign, member clubs are the target demographic for campaigns as they vote for FIA President.
As the first non-European to stand as a candidate as FIA President, diversity and inclusion are a significant part of Ben Sulayem’s platform. He states on his campaign website, “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.”
He has been very vocal about having larger representation in international motorsport from Africa and the Middle East. Ben Sulayem wants to introduce low-cost, accessible, grassroots motorsport categories to develop young driving and engineering talent worldwide. Also, there would be an FIA Global Academy for regional karting champions and a scholarship fund for aspiring motorsport engineers. He would also like to create the position of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager within the FIA.
As President, Mohammed Ben Sulayem wants the FIA to be more transparent as well as profitable. He would have the federation be externally audited and introduce transparent budgeting and financial reports. He would also like to appoint a CEO for the FIA to create a unified approach for the entire organization.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s campaign has been divisive. Several rumors have cropped up around the candidate, including one that Ben Sulayem would move the FIA’s headquarters to Dubai if he wins the election. In response, Ben Sulayem put out a press release promising to keep the FIA in Paris. It is easy to assume that many don’t like Ben Sulayem’s radical ideas to transform the organization.