Thursday, 8 May 2008

Giving The FIA a Bad Name...

No, this is not an article about Max Mosley's shenanigans in a London basement. There is a far more serious issue of public image facing the FIA. One that has the capacity to undermine the very foundations of the organisation. This is big news people, prepare to be stunned...

Sebastien Loeb doesn't shave enough.

Absolutely despicable behaviour from the 4 time World Rally Champion and hero to millions. I don't know how he sleeps at night; anyone would think he was free to be able to style his facial hair any way he saw fit?! Thankfully the FIA have been on the case and recommended that the TV companies don't show any lingering close-ups of Loeb for fear of bringing the sport into disrepute, thus saving us precious rally fans from Loeb's hideous visage.

A brief synopsis of this latest farcical story: FIA delegate and head of African motorsport Surinder Thatthi lodged a complaint with the powers that be that Sebastien Loeb was looking far too unkempt when receiving his winner's trophy at WRC Rally Mexico. Morrie Chandler, the head of the FIA's rally division, upheld the complaint and advised the TV companies not to focus heavily on rally winners if they have not taken sufficient care over their appearance. (Apparently neither Thatthi nor Chandler have considered the fact that after several hours in a red-hot cockpit wearing a crash helmet, one's hair may end up looking a little ruffled.)

What made the matter all the more baffling was the language used in an email from Chandler, reprinted in Paris' le Figaro newspaper. "The same thing happens in football and other 'virile' sports. Of course such people are an insult to real men."

So if football and other such pursuits are 'virile' sports, what does that then make rallying? Impotent?! Perhaps that would explain the WRC's drooping viewing figures and dwindling manufacturer interest over the past few years, as fans have seen the sport increasingly neutered and softened since the peak of the Group B days.

Naturally the French press are more than a little put out by this revelation. le Figaro have seen it as an example of double standards from the FIA; ie how can the FIA be sensitive enough to complain about a driver's facial hair while the President of the organisation is up to all manner of extravagant sexual exploits with ladies of the night?

Whilst they may have a valid point, I feel the most important matter arising from this is that this whole exchange of emails occurred some weeks before the Max Mosley sex scandal broke. So who has passed this on to the newspaper now, in the run up to the crucial vote over Mosley's future on June 3rd? Or have the newspaper been sitting on the story, waiting for a perfect time release it to further undermine public confidence in the FIA? Can't help but thinking that, as story after story slowly trickles its way into the press, is there someone behind the scenes pulling the strings, orchestrating the media hatchet job on the FIA? Hmmmm...

Whatever, I think the upshot of this is that as head of Rally affairs for the FIA Mr Chandler should focus more attention on attracting more viewers, manufacturers and sponsors to the floundering World Rally Championship and stop worrying about the appearance of one of the sport's brightest and best stars. Either that or he should just do the honourable thing and resign his position, leave the rallying to the "real men," eh Morrie?

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