Fears were expressed this week that the lucrative monopoly held on world motorsport by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile could crumble if a worldwide ban on sponsorship by tobacco companies is not applied worldwide.

FIA president Max Moseley on Thursday told the launch of the ‘Tobacco Free Sports’ campaign in Geneva that a piecemeal approach by legislators could encourage teams to race in countries where there might be no legally-enforced ban. Such a scenario would prejudice the FIA’s own ban which comes into effect in 2006.

With motorsport events broadcast around the globe and many nations vying to host hold high profile races like the Formula One championship, the sport would be in danger of fragmentation: “What will happen for financial reasons is that the teams will not race in countries where the ban exists,” Moseley said.

“For a major world sport taking place in a number of countries it is absolutely essential the ban takes place everywhere. If they do not all do it on the same date, they will damage our sport, your sport and your campaign,” Moseley told the World Health Organisation-organised event.

Urging the WHO to lobby its 191 member states to adopt unanimously the world's first tobacco control treaty in 2003, Moseley reiterated that neither the FIA nor its championships receive sponsorship from the tobacco industry.

He conceded, however, that: “Sponsorship by the tobacco industry of motor sport teams and events has occurred for over thirty years and still remains an important source of revenue for a number of Formula One and World Rally Championship teams.”

Although the precise value of such sponsorship is hard to estimate, the FIA believes it exceeds $350 million annually. But, asserts the body, there is now a significant trend of diversification by motorsport participants into alternative sources of sponsorship.

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK); FIA website