Tomorrow morning Flavio Briatore will begin his fight back against the lifetime ban imposed upon him by the FIA World Motor Sport Council for his part in the 2008 Singapore scandal.
His appeal against the decision will be heard at the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, at the Palais de Justice. Justice has been handed out on this site since medieval times, and the Palais was once the seat of the French parliament.
But will Briatore get the justice he craves and that he believes he deserves?
Little is known about what Flav will argue but his options appear limited. We know, thanks to leaks to the press, that he will seek €1 million in compensation and to have his lifetime ban from FIA competition overturned. We know that he will argue that the case had been decided before it had even been heard and that he was made a scapegoat for the situation due to the personal vendetta of Max Mosley. But, as I said, how he hopes to argue this is, and may remain due to French judicial procedure, a mystery.
One of Flavio’s strongest arguments may well be the simple fact that both Nelson Piquet Jr and Pat Symonds were offered immunity to testify against Briatore. This could quite easily be argued to signal that the FIa was only intent on prosecuting Briatore and could give credence to his claims of a witch hunt. That Symonds ultimately chose not to take that offer, however, led to his own downfall. He will also be arguing his five year ban tomorrow.
Briatore and Symonds will try to argue that the case was heard without them being present, despite both of their testimonies to FIA investigators being used in the hearing at the WMSC. Had they wished to have been present to represent themselves, they could easily have done so. Their choice in not attending may thus stand their claims of a decision in absentia void.
Personally however, I do not believe that Briatore expects to win his case tomorrow. Frankly I don’t even think he wants to.
Had he wanted the decision overturned, he could have appealed in the first instance to the FIA’s International Court of Appeal. A body separate and independent of the WMSC and one filled with legal minds, he could easily have argued his case here and stood a good chance of being reinstated.
He has gone a different route however, taking his appeal through the French court system. But why? And why do I think he will lose?
He will lose because if he wins, the regulation of sport… any sport… could fall into chaos. Sporting bodies have always been and must continue to be free to punish those who break their rules.
We are not, for the most part, talking about legal issues when it comes to sporting penalties. Take the Bloodgate controversy in English rugby. While it is not illegal to bite down on a blood capsule, the fact that a player in a match of rugby did so to initiate a “blood replacement” led to him being suspended and his manager and physio being banned from the game for a period of some years. The Renault Singapore scandal isn’t too dissimilar.
So what happens if Flavio wins tomorrow? It essentially tells anyone who has been handed a penalty by a sport’s governing body that if they want to get it overturned they should appeal the decision through the courts. Can you imagine what that would do to world sport? Every yellow card, every red card, every sending off, every touchline ban, relegations, promotions, points dockings… every sporting penalty in every championship on earth could be appealed through the courts. It could create an enormous mess, and one which effectively strips the world’s sports’ governing bodies of any real power to govern their own sports.
But, as I said, I don’t think Flavio even wants to win this one. For me, tomorrow’s case was always one he was going to lose, and I think he knows that.
Flavio has gone the route he has because he expects to lose the case so that he can appeal to a higher body. And ultimately, when all other appeal courts in France have been expended he will take the case to where he really wants it to be heard… and that is the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
He will take his case to the highest court in Europe and he will argue that the FIA has stripped him of his basic human rights. In doing so he will seek to further discredit the reign of Max Mosley at the FIA, and to smash any chances Mosley might have had at entering European Politics, if indeed that is where Max had wished to end up after his FIA Presidency, as has been rumoured for many years.
I will not be surprised in the slightest if Flavio loses his appeal tomorrow. Afterall, if my hunch is right, it’s exactly what Flavio wants.