Grand Prix Racing and Sovereignty

by Chris Borgen

What do Formula-One racing and international law have in common? A little bit more than they used to. Consider the following from the BBC:

Cyprus is making an official complaint to motor sport’s world governing body over what it calls a political “trick” at the Turkish Grand Prix.

The Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, presented the Formula One trophy at the televised event in Istanbul.

However, he was introduced as president of the Turkish Cypriot “state” – which is only recognised by Turkey.

Cyprus has been divided since a 1974 invasion by Turkey, which held the northern part of the island. The situation further devolved with a November 1983 proclamation by the northern third of Cyprus that it was from then on the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (“TRNC”), an independent state. However, the Republic of Cyprus—the government that is based in the part of the island controlled by Greek Cypriots—is recognized as the government of Cyprus as a whole. The Republic of Cyprus is part of the EU; only Turkey recognizes the TRNC as a separate state.

Using the awards ceremony in this way did not go over well with the Republic of Cyprus:

“The Cypriot government will denounce this unacceptable and provocative piece of theatre,” Cyprus government spokesman Christodoulos Pashardis told reporters after the Grand Prix award ceremony.

The International Automobile Federation (known as “FIA”) similarly was not amused, stating via a spokesperson:

“The FIA has launched a full investigation into the podium presentation at the Turkish Grand Prix and is concerned that its political neutrality may have been compromised.”

Commentators believe that the FIA could decide to take the Turkish Grand Prix out of the official race schedule for next year, which translates to a real financial hit for Turkey.

Why the brouhaha? The FIA is annoyed because it does not want to be pulled into a political squabble over the status of northern Cyprus. According to the Guardian:

The FIA, which brings together 213 national motoring organisations from 125 countries on five continents, said in a statement that political neutrality was fundamental to its role as a governing body.

“No compromise or violation of this neutrality is acceptable,” it added.

(The Guardian noted that the FIA is very touchy about “podium breaches”:

In 2002, Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher, team mate Rubens Barrichello and Ferrari were fined $1 million for their actions on the Austrian Grand Prix podium.

Schumacher had switched places with Barrichello on the top step after the Brazilian had been ordered to let the German win despite leading the entire race.)

But part of this argument is also about sovereignty, the coin of the realm of international law. Officially, the Republic of Cyprus has it and the TRNC does not. The UN has had numerous resolutions on the Cypriot conflict, perhaps most directly on the issue of sovereignty is Security Council Resolution 541 (1983)(available here), which calls upon states not to recognize any Cypriot state other than the Republic of Cyprus. The Security Council called the TRNC’s proclamation of statehood “invalid.”

International law is determined largely by what states do or don’t do. (Example: whether or not a state enters into a particular treaty.) This is an aspect of modern positivism. The Republic of Cyprus does not want to seemingly acquiesce to the TRNC taking on any of the trappings of sovereignty and later be told that by its actions it has accepted TRNC sovereignty.

And so, the dust-up over what happens on the awards podium after a Formula One race is just one small example of two related aspects of modern international law: the centrality of sovereignty and the continued importance of positivism in thinking about what is or is not international law.

Take that, Talladega Nights.

2 Responses

  1. Nothing like international drama to show the growth of auto-racing.

  2. Hey Professor. Interesting that you should mention the sovereignty of Cyprus and lack of sovereignty of TRNC. Reminds me of Henkin’s discussion of why it should not be used in discussions of international law. What do you think about Henkin’s arguments?

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