Motor racing-FIA defends Ben Sulayem after reported sexist comments

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Italian Grand Prix - Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Monza, Italy - September 11, 2022 FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem before the race REUTERS/Massimo Pinca

LONDON (Reuters) - Sexist comments attributed to the head of Formula One's governing body and splashed across the media do not reflect the beliefs of president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA said on Saturday.

The 61-year-old, who was elected in 2021 and has recently been at odds with Liberty Media-run Formula One, was quoted by the Times newspaper and others as saying he did not like "women who think they are smarter than men, for they are not in truth".

The comments, which appeared to be more than two decades old, appeared on an old personal website that could no longer be read online.

An FIA spokesman said however that "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."

The Paris-based FIA has for the first time appointed a female chief executive, Natalie Robyn, while Tanya Kutsenko serves as the body's first equality, diversity and inclusion adviser.

The FIA also has a commission on women in motorsport headed by Frenchwoman Deborah Mayer and a Girls on Track initiative aimed at increasing gender equality and female participation worldwide.

The BBC said the existence of Ben Sulayem's old website, and its contents, had been discussed by senior figures within F1 since his election but had not been made public until now.

The timing comes after Formula One's top lawyer sent an extraordinary letter to the FIA earlier in the week accusing Ben Sulayem of interfering in the commercial rights "in an unacceptable manner".

Ben Sulayem had questioned on Twitter a reported $20 billion valuation of the sport following reports of Saudi Arabian interest.

Relations between Formula One and the FIA have frayed since the governing body stalled on increasing the number of sprint races from three to six, a number eventually agreed on, and released the 2023 calendar without warning.

The FIA has also drawn criticism from rights groups for amending the international sporting code so that drivers must now secure written permission from the governing body to make "political statements".

Ben Sulayem also put himself at odds with F1 and most teams when he expressed strong support for Michael Andretti's bid for an 11th team entry with the backing of General Motors brand Cadillac.

Formula One teams are resistant to expansion under current terms because of the dilution of revenues.

"The question is not about Andretti, it's what a new team could bring to F1," Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur told reporters this week.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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