It's enough to make Eliot Spitzer green with envy. Following the very public revelation of his sexual predilections in March, Max Mosley, the president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), faced calls for his resignation from Formula One racers and condemnation from the sport's sponsors. But on Tuesday morning, in a secret-ballot proceeding held in Paris, Mosley secured 103 of 169 votes to win a vote of confidence from motorsport's governing body and the right to serve out his term as FIA president.
The ruling comes two months after the British tabloid News of the World posted video footage of Mosley reveling in what it described as "a chilling Nazi-style sadomasochistic orgy with five hookers." In the video, a mock prison guard spanks Mosley while explaining his punishment: "He's serving a life sentence now for crimes he committed before. I'm sure it won't be the last time he's bent over that bench."
Her words may apply to Formula One as well: officials have already voiced concerns that the sport will continue to suffer along with Mosley's reputation. Despite Mosley's lopsided victory, the ruling reveals deep rifts within the automotive federation between those supporters who believe Mosley's private behavior has no impact on his public role, and those who believe Mosley's sexcapade will continue to tarnish the sport's image and potentially drive away fans and advertisers.
Eddie Jordan, a former F1 team owner, believes fallout from the scandal will prevent Mosley from fulfilling his presidential duties, such as promoting the sport and meeting with heads of state. "This is not a moral issue. It's a practical one," Jordan told the BBC immediately following the announcement. "[Leaders] no longer wish to deal with Max Mosley."
That is no exaggeration. In recent weeks Jordan's King Abdullah, Monaco's Prince Albert and Spain's King Juan Carlos have tacitly or publicly snubbed Mosley. Their avoidance moves came after Bahrain's Sheikh Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa sent Mosley a letter in April formally disinviting him from Bahrain's Grand Prix with the words, "With great regret, I feel that under the current circumstances it would be inappropriate for you to be in Bahrain."
Mosley, who admitted to participating in the orgy, has initiated legal action against News of the World for claiming that his sadomasochistic romp had Nazi and concentration-camp connotations. He said he spoke with a German accent, ("She needs more of ze punishment"), because the women involved were themselves German. (Mosley is the son of noted British fascist Oswald Mosley.) But his main argument, made in a letter to FIA officials prior to today's vote, is that his sex life is irrelevant, as it harms no one. "Had I been caught driving excessively fast on a public road or over the alcohol limit I should have resigned the same day," he said.
For many delegates, that was a weak argument for someone who obviously relishes risk. U.S. delegate Robert Darbelnet voted against Mosley and says that the American Automobile Association, which represents more than 50 million motorists, will consider withdrawing from the FIA. "We should not rush to judgment on this," he told a British television reporter. "But one of the potential ramifications is the division or a split away from the organization that might in fact provide an opportunity for like-minded clubs to find a representative body in a different form."
Actions by other federations support the notion that the FIA could possibly splinter. Germany's ADAC, the largest automobile organization in Europe, suspended all activities with the FIA. "ADAC will stay with its decision as long as Max Mosley holds the top FIA office of president," a spokesman said. The auto-racing representatives from Australia, France, Germany, Japan and Spain also voted against Mosley, signaling discontent in those markets where Formula One draws most of its viewers and sponsors.
Still, Mosley has secured a victory few thought possible by calling in favors from some of the smaller federations. He has already promised not to make public appearances on behalf of the FIA, suggesting he has plans for a quiet end to his tenure, which expires in October 2009. The jokes and snickers will undoubtedly continue, but they're unlikely to drive Mosley from office. He may be bruised, but, as he has already demonstrated, he has a high tolerance for pain.