FIA president in controversy over historic sexist remarks

Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the FIA motorsport federation - Remko de Waal/ANP via Getty Images
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, president of the FIA motorsport federation - Remko de Waal/ANP via Getty Images

Mohammed ben Sulayem, the president of motorsport’s world governing body, has been caught up in a fresh controversy, this time for historical comments about “women who think they are smarter than men”.

The 61-year-old former rally champion from the United Arab Emirates, made the comments on his old website.

In an archived version of the website, he says his likes and dislikes are “basically simple”, with Ben Sulayem stating: “I love the desert and I love meeting real people”. But he wrote that he does not like talking “about money, nor do I like women who think they are smarter than men, for they are not in truth”.

The comments will be seen as embarrassing for Ben Sulayem and for the FIA, which has made efforts in recent years to promote women in motorsport.

A spokesperson for the FIA said: "The remarks in this archived website from 2001 do not reflect the President’s beliefs.

He has a strong record on promoting women and equality in sport, which he is happy to be judged on. It was a central part of his manifesto and actions taken this year and the many years he served as Vice President for Sport prove this."

Ben Sulayem has had a rocky time since succeeding Jean Todt as FIA president in December 2021, just weeks after the controversial Abu Dhabi grand prix where Max Verstappen won his maiden world championship at Lewis Hamilton’s expense.

The FIA was widely criticised for its handling of that affair, with the relationship between the FIA and the sport’s owners now at a particularly low ebb after disagreements ranging from sprint races to budget caps.

Last week, Formula 1's owners Liberty Media accused Ben Sulayem of making "unacceptable" remarks about the championship's value. The FIA president had described $20bn (£16.2bn) as an "inflated price tag being put on F1"

A letter sent by F1 and owner Liberty Media to the FIA said the remarks "overstepped the bounds of both the FIA's remit and its contractual rights". It added that the FIA "may be liable" for any damage to Liberty's value.

The FIA, which has also been criticised for introducing a new rule preventing drivers from speaking out at races on political issues, has been approached for comment.