Formula One’s regulator has handed over up to €150,000 (£137,000) to Syrian motor sports organisations with ties to President Bashar al-Assad, according to reports.
The FIA, which oversees the governance of F1, awarded grants of €50,000 a year to the Syrian Automobile Club (SAC) between 2014 and 2017 an investigation by ITV news revealed tonight.
The money was obtained under a structure open to all FIA affiliated organisations and used to fund off-road and drift racing events.
According to state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), tourism minister Bishr Yazig attended the drift event, saying it “reflects the strong will of the Syrians and their ability to be renewable and to continue their normal life.”
Yazigi has had his European assets have been frozen and is banned from entering the EU because he “shares responsibility for the regime’s violent repression against the civilian population”, ITV News reported.
The drift championships were held at a track which had been destroyed by terrorists and rebuilt by the SAC, SANA said.
A spokesperson for the FIA said the grants were “in keeping with the role of international sports federations to promote peace through sport and follows the advice from the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace”.
The Syrian Automobile Club has worked very hard to keep motorsport going in this war-ravaged country and we look forward to seeing motorsport in the region helping development and peace through sport.
MP Alison McGovern, the co-chair of Friends of Syria All Parties Parliamentary Group said: “Personally I would like for there to be an investigation into this. Whether that’s for Britain, perhaps through the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, in parliament or through other means. I would welcome our parliament and government taking a very serious look at this issue.”
Neither the SAC nor its president Walid Shaaban are subject to sanctions. The investigation found no evidence that the projects that received funding were illegitimate or that the application process is improper.