Formula One is this week facing up to the fallout from the Renault race-fixing scandal. Following the World Motor Sport Council’s ruling that the Renault F1 team conspired to cause a deliberate crash in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix, its lead sponsor ING has pulled out with immediate effect.
The ING deal was worth an estimated £40 million a year to Renault – which has also seen Spanish insurance firm Mutua Madrilena withdraw. In a statement, the Dutch bank said: “ING is deeply disappointed at this turn of events, especially in light of an otherwise successful sponsorship.”
In reality, the decision to terminate early is not a major blow to ING – which was due to end its relationship with Renault at the end of the current season anyway. In light of the severity of the accusations against Renault, it would have been strange if ING had stayed involved with the team for the sake of a few extra races. Far more important was to distance the brand from the any association with cheating.
Still on the subject of cheating, sponsorship trade body ESA waded into the debate about ethics in sport this week. In light of recent controversies surrounding sports such as football, rugby union, athletics and F1, ESA issued “a stark warning” to sports governing bodies and rights holders of the threat to future potential sponsorship funding if acts of cheating are seen to persist within sport. “Sponsors quite rightly are highly sensitive about their brands and their ability to protect them,” says ESA chairman Karen Earl. “Like the fans watching live at events and on television, sponsors will start to feel cheated and will certainly not want to have their brand linked with a sport, a team or individuals who have deliberately cheated in order to win.”
ESA says it will be advising members to include extra clauses within their sponsorship contracts to provide them with extra protection. Commenting on the issue, ESA legal advisor Nick Johnson said there were reasons to be positive, “Drug abuse and match fixing scandals have cast shadows over sport. However, improved technology and more detailed examination is beginning to lead to quicker and more conclusive exposure of cheats. This will strengthen the rights of sponsors enabling them to react appropriately and making the rights holders much more accountable”.