PARIS: Mohammed ben Sulayem, who became the first non-European to be elected president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) on Friday, has committed “to develop motorsport” in China and India.
The 60-year-old Emirati gained 61.62 percent of the votes cast compared to 36.62 percent for his sole rival Britain’s Graham Stoker.
The former rally driver replaces Jean Todt, who stands down after 12 years at the helm.
“I wish to express my infinite gratitude in the name of the FIA and that of its members to Jean Todt for all that has been achieved over the past 12 years,” said Sulayem in a statement.
“I am committed to pursuing the important work and make motor sport and mobility take further steps forward.”
Ben Sulayem, from Dubai, has been campaigning for several months as the non-establishment candidate against Stoker who was Todt’s right hand man.
He has vowed to modernize the FIA and make it more transparent.
In his manifesto, he promised an outside audit of the governance, and an evaluation of finances plus budget reports and transparency over their finances.
“We can never say that our governance is sufficient, we must always improve, otherwise we are lost,” he said in a press conference after the vote.
“Our rules can always be improved.”
Sulayem also committed to expanding motorsports into countries where participation remains low.
“It is also important to develop motorsport. We must not only rely on the top sport but also on its base, members, clubs,” he said.
“I always take, as an example, the two largest countries in the world, China and India.
“We are talking about fewer than 8,000 competition licenses for 2.8 billion (inhabitants). And you have places like Finland that have over 11,000!
“There is something wrong. For me, that is one of the main topics. It is not easy but it is doable.
“Diversity is also very important. If we are to grow and gain trust, we need to make sure that we respect diversity and inclusion.”
Ben Sulayem, 14 times the Middle East rally champion, was supported by most of his region, which is becoming increasingly influential in motor sport.
The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar — who broke ranks to vote for Stoker — all hosted Formula One Grand Prix in 2021.
“No one can come to the Gulf and ignore motorsport,” said Sulayem.
“It is a good thing for sport, for Formula 1 and rally-raid. It will help the FIA to develop but it does not mean that we will forget the other regions.
“And we talk all the time about F1 but we cannot forget the other disciplines.
“We have to look at the World Rally Championship. Having two-and-a-half manufacturers in such an important championship is not enough.”
Todt has completed three four-year mandates with the 75-year-old Frenchman and former Ferrari boss proud of his legacy especially his belief that they have made the sport safer.
He is also pleased with the creation of several other motorsport championships.
“We created the Formula E championship, an endurance world championship with a new elite category, and a rally-raid world championship which begins next year in Dakar,” he told AFP.