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F1 money used to develop race track in Syria

NEWS STORY
14/09/2019

As the civil war in Syria continues, a war which has left more than 400,000 people dead and more than eleven million in need of aid, company documents reveal that the Syrian Automobile Club (SAC) was awarded funding for a new race track in the hope of developing a new generation of racing drivers to eventually compete in a national championship.

The funds originate from a grant scheme from the FIA, which operates in 144 countries worldwide, and to which F1 contributes.

In late 2017, it was revealed that Syria had been awarded money for safety equipment for its racing programme, but documents now reveal that money has been granted for a full racing circuit for karting.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reports that the SAC has arranged numerous races which were sponsored by the government-controlled Ministry of Tourism.

In 2017 Amnesty International claimed that as many as 13,000 people had been executed at the nearby Sednaya jail over a five-year period, this was backed-up by the US State Department which confirmed that a crematorium had been built to dispose of the bodies following the mass hangings of thousands of inmates.

The SAC is supported by both the regime that is understood to have authorised these executions and the FIA's grant scheme.

To be clear, F1 has no control over how the FIA invests the money and there is no suggestion that the projects which receive funding are illegitimate or that any sanctions have been broken.

However, Chris Doyle Director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) says that "a delicate balance has to be made between not supporting a regime that continues to commit war crimes and grave human rights abuses, and at the same time not penalising Syrian people who have to be able to have a life. Syria is still a member of the International Olympic Association, FIFA and other sporting bodies.

"Supporting grassroots sporting activities that can help Syrians recover from the trauma of war and oppression might be valuable but at the same time, all efforts must be made to prevent the Syrian regime from abusing this for nefarious public relations purposes that attempt to burnish its credentials amongst its own people."

According to the Telegraph, since it was launched in 2014, the scheme has paid out a total of €14.1m (12.6m), and while it isn't clear how much the SAC received, the maximum amount available for each grant is €50,000 (45,000) so it could have got as much as €250,000 (225,000).

While F1 declined to comment, in a brief statement the FIA said: "All grants are subject to internal scrutiny and the FIA will continue to lead the way in ensuring compliance."

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