FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has addressed the controversial comments attributed to him that became public knowledge early this year.
In early 2023, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem found himself at the heart of a controversy as comments that were published on his own website from over 20 years ago emerged, including one attributed to him in which a dislike was “women who think they are smarter than men, for they are not in truth.”
Sparking a furore focused on this particular comment, the governing body was forced to issue a statement in which the FIA said the comments did not ‘reflect the President’s beliefs’.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem addresses controversial comments
Speaking in an interview with the Press Association during his home Grand Prix weekend in the United Arab Emirates, Ben Sulayem addressed the remarks and revealed he had been subjected to xenophobic comments during his campaign to become the FIA figurehead.
Commenting on the comments which had been published on his website back in 2001, Ben Sulayem clarified his own position on the topic.
“What did I say, if I said it?” he commented.
“Let’s assume it was (me). I tell you exactly what it said. It says: ‘I hate when women think they are smarter than us’. But they hate when men think they are smarter than them.
“Did I say we are smarter? No. Did I say they are less smart? No. For God’s sake, if that is the only thing they have against me, please be my guest, you can do worse than that.
“People can go back and see what has been said, and if I have said anything against women. In 117 years of the FIA, I am the only president who brought in a female CEO (Natalie Robyn).
“I made the commission for EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion), and I brought a woman in (adviser, Tanya Kutsenko). There is disrespect to women if you say we have to have 30 percent (female staff). You bring them in on merit and credibility. And that is why they are there.
“Look at Bernie Ecclestone’s wife. (Fabiana Ecclestone, Vice-President for Sport in South America). She is one of the most active. They said that I brought her in because of the support from Bernie. But Bernie doesn’t have any connection with any votes. He has no power over them.”
During the same interview, Ben Sulayem also revealed a text message attributed to former FIA interim secretary general for motorsport Shaila-Ann Rao, thanking him for hosting her during the Italian Grand Prix weekend – seemingly at odds with the allegation that she had accused the FIA President of sexist behaviour during her time with the governing body.
“When we opened a position as CEO, Shaila-Ann wanted to be the CEO,” Ben Sulayem explained.
“I could not get involved. I said, ‘Shaila, you are good, go through with the process’. We had 150 applications, and everybody went through that process.
“I don’t want to do any comment. But that is from September. Sexism, please! Do they have anything else? Why don’t they come and confront me?”
Ben Sulayem had to go through a particularly difficult period this year, as he suffered the tragic loss of his son in a road traffic accident in Dubai.
“The attack on me earlier this year was inhuman, with the tragedy that I had,” he reflected.
“I would love that if I did these things that I was accused of, you sit with me, challenge me and confront me. But don’t fabricate and throw things at me, and then when I tell you to prove it, you run away and don’t come back. That is not the way.”
Ben Sulayem said that he felt had been targetted, and revealed he had encountered some nasty comments made straight to his face during his campaign to become the FIA President.
“Imagine in my campaign, in Europe, that someone said to me: ‘Don’t ever think we will accept our president of the FIA to be an Arab Muslim with the name of Mohammed’,” he said.
“I laughed because I knew how to beat him – by winning. But my Christian team were so upset with him. I said, ‘no, leave it, please, this is something I expect from them’. But can we go back to work? And work for the passion that we love, which is motorsport, and improve it?”