Flavio Briatore was encouraged to fight for his football life last night, threatening to tip the Football League into a damaging and costly confrontation with the flamboyant Chairman of Queen’s Park Rangers. Briatore has been called to defend himself in front of the Football League Board, which could throw him out of the game after claims that he had fallen foul of the League’s “fit and proper persons” test.
But Bernie Ecclestone, Briatore’s longstanding friend and powerful ally in Formula One, as well as a QPR Director, has told Briatore not to back down under increasing pressure for him to quit before he is charged by the League. Ecclestone believes the life ban imposed on Briatore in Formula One after the “Crashgate” affair has no bearing on his football activities. “Nobody is worrying about it at QPR,” Ecclestone, the Formula One commercial rights-holder, said: “He says that he was not involved in what happened in Crashgate and has maintained that. But anyway, what has that got to do with football ?” He suffered a harsh punishment in Formula One but it is not as though he could even do the same things in football. He should simply tell the Football League his side of the story. Make his own case. The Football League should forget about Flavio Briatore and worry more about the people in football who really do need investigating.”
Ecclestone believes that Briatore was treated harshly in Formula One for his part in Crashgate, in which the FIA, the sport’s world governing body, accused him, as Managing Director at Renault, of ordering Nelson Piquet Jnr, to smash his car into a wall to disrupt last year’s Singapore Grand Prix so that Fernando Alonso, his team-mate, could win the race. The FIA’s judgment was damning, refusing to allow Briatore to be connected in any way with Formula One or motor racing for the rest of his life. That immediately catapulted Briatore into football’s spotlight, with Football League rules not allowing Directors to serve if they had been banned by the governing body of another sport.
The eight-man Football League Board – which includes Adam Pearson, the Derby County Chairman, and David Sheepshanks, the former Chairman of Ipswich Town – took legal advice before considering the Briatore case, which is a potential minefield and could result in a drawn-out legal argument that would cost tens of thousands of pounds in lawyers’ fees. In legal circles the view is that Briatore is likely to fall short of the fit and proper persons test but the question now for the Football League is how, if established, it could apply it. There are no guarantees that Briatore will even attempt to answer the case after he refused to attend the FIA’s court.
Speculation is growing that Amit Bhatia, the QPR’s Deputy Chairman, will make an offer for Briatore’s shareholding but Ecclestone denied that Briatore wants to sell. Briatore is known to be furious with what he saw as an FIA campaign against him and will not take to being pushed around by football’s authorities, which explains the League’s cautious approach in asking Briatore for his side of the case. It simply has to wait and wonder now what Briatore’s response will be.
But Ecclestone’s ire is also directed at the Football League, particularly because it looks set to rubber-stamp the controversial takeover of Notts County by the mysterious Munto Finance. Ecclestone knows Russell King, the middleman in the deal, who has been the focus of allegations of financial irregularities and criminal investigation. That is why Ecclestone wonders why Briatore has been targeted. In spite of his flashy image, Briatore posted QPR’s annual accounts on the club website. Under his chairmanship, losses increased from ¬£4.8 million to ¬£6 million last year, but large swaths of Loftus Road were upgraded and a dozen new players were recruited, sending the wage bill soaring.
Kevin Eason – The Times