FIA respond after more sexism allegations surface against president Mohammed Ben Sulayem

Sam Cooper
Mohammed ben Sulayem and Shaila-Ann Rao

Mohammed ben Sulayem and Shaila-Ann Rao

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has again been accused of sexism after former employee Shaila-Ann Rao was reported to have “humiliated” – but the FIA say all ‘due process was followed’ in her ‘amicable’ exit.

Sexist concerns about the incumbent FIA president first surfaced earlier this year when remarks attributed to him were found in an archived version of his website, which include a quote that said he “not like women who think they are smarter than men… for they are not, in truth.”

The FIA responded at the time by saying that statement did not reflect the views of Ben Sulayem.

But the 61-year-old Emirati is again facing fresh calls of sexism with the Telegraph reporting that Rao sent a letter “alleging numerous instances of sexist behaviour.”

Rao was interim secretary general for six months at the FIA before departing abruptly in December. Her appointment to the sport’s governing body was a controversial one at the time given her links to Mercedes where she served as Toto Wolff’s special advisor.

The Telegraph claims they spoke to “dozens of current and former FIA staff, including elected officials, World Motor Sport Council members and stewards who likewise paint a picture of erratic and bullying behaviour behind the scenes.”

Rao was said to have sent a letter to Ben Sulayem and to Carmelo Sanz de Barros, the president of the FIA Senate.

Asked to comment on the letter, Rao’s allegations of sexism and whether the complaints were followed up on, an FIA spokesperson told The Telegraph: “Shaila-Ann Rao was a temporary director at the FIA from June 1 2022 and then became interim secretary general for motor sport.

“In Nov 2022 it was decided by both parties that she would leave that position. Mutual privacy terms have been agreed as is commonplace in business. Neither party has made a reference to the FIA Ethics Committee.”

According to FIA statutes, a breach of the Code of Ethics should be referred to the FIA’s Ethics Committee for a full investigation and the results would normally be handed over to the president.

If the president is the one accused of wrongdoing then the report is instead supposed to be submitted to the senate.

The Telegraph did not name any of their sources but the newspaper said “Ben Sulayem was seen by witnesses shouting at Rao in the FIA’s paddock home at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix. Other sources say they have heard him refer to her as ‘that woman.'”

“He was very condescending to her,” a source reportedly said.

“I’ve had team principals call me who said ‘You should have seen how he treated Shaila-Ann’ and it was in front of other people. He would have a go at her in a very unqualified manner. That’s how he was. Shaila-Ann dared to say no in front of other people which seemed to trigger his behaviour.”

In light of this report from The Telegraph, the BBC posed a series of questions to the FIA and received the following response:

“Due process was followed, with an amicable negotiation conducted by the president of the senate and, as such, no referrals were made to the ethics committee.

“As previously stated, both parties agreed she would leave her position in November 2022 and mutual privacy terms were agreed, as is common business practice.”

On the allegations of bullying and abusive behaviour by Ben Sulayem, the statement said: “There have been no complaints received against the president.

“The FIA takes allegations of abuse very seriously and addresses all complaints using robust and clear procedures.

“As part of this, the FIA has an anti-harassment policy, an anonymous whistleblowing facility and an investigation procedure and all staff are made aware of these through an induction and regular training.”’s recommended reading

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