Mohammed bin Sulayem
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November 12, 1961|
|World Rally Championship record|
|First rally||1988 Acropolis Rally|
|Last rally||1995 Rally New Zealand|
Mohammed Ahmed bin Sulayem or Mohammed ben Sulayem (born 1961) is one of the Arab world’s leading motor sport figures and an influential official within the sport’s world governing body, the FIA. A successful organiser and record-breaking former international rally driver, he is a role model to young people across the Middle East.
In a rallying career spanning three decades, he became one of the most successful Arab drivers in motor sport history, earning 14 FIA Middle East Rally Championship titles and establishing himself as a sporting ambassador for the region.
In 2008, he became the first Arab named as Vice President of the FIA, and the first to be elected to the FIA World Motor Sport Council. In his FIA role he has pioneered teaching, research and knowledge transfer initiatives in motor sport.
As President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE since 2006, he has built the organisation into one of the world’s leading national motor sport and motoring authorities, with acknowledged expertise in associated training, research and education.
In June 2013 he was appointed as chairman of the new Motor Sport Development Task Force set up by the FIA to build a ten-year plan for the sport’s global development.
Born in Dubai, he is one of the most celebrated sporting figures to emerge from the United Arab Emirates. He is recognised for presenting a modern and progressive image of the Arab world to a global audience, and by promoting good causes, public service and education.
- 1 Education
- 2 Rallying career
- 3 Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE
- 4 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
- 5 F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
- 6 FIA role
- 7 Research
- 8 FIA Middle East Rally Championship
- 9 Road safety
- 10 Support for charities
- 11 Honorary doctorate
- 12 Sport management
- 13 Rallying achievements
- 14 In Media
- 15 References
- 16 External links
After entering rallying in Dubai in the early 1980s, Sulayem quickly progressed from local events into the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, which was established in 1984, and two years later he won the first of his 14 regional titles.
From that point on he dominated the Middle East Championship up to his retirement from competitive rallying in 2002, clinching the title in each of the 13 other seasons in which he contested the regional series.
With 61 international victories in the Middle East overall, he has won more FIA rallies, and more FIA championships, than any other driver.
Sulayem’s international reputation was widened by regular overseas excursions, including several with the official Toyota works team in the FIA World Rally Championship. His 1991 victory in Turkey’s Bosphorus Rally was the first by an Arab driver in an international Rally outside the Middle East.
Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE
Since taking over as President of the ATCUAE in 2006, Sulayem has transformed the organisation into one of the world’s leading national motor sport authorities.
Overseeing more than 140 events annually from Formula One to local motocross, the Club is now recognised internationally as a knowledge led organisation which delivers training programmes to assist the development of motor sport in many other countries.
Equally active in the field of mobility, it provides wide-ranging services to motorists and travellers in support of the FIA’s commitment to help people move easily about their world, and is a strong supporter of road safety initiatives.
Motor sport duties
Under Sulayem’s guidance, the Club has assumed growing responsibilities for the supervision of all forms of circuit racing, rallying, drag racing and motocross that make up the UAE’s ever-expanding motor sport calendar.
Its major duty is to ensure all events are run in accordance with the regulations of the FIA and FIM, with top priority given to the safety of competitors, spectators, media and the general public.
In addition to its role in overseeing UAE motor sport, the Club also organises the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, a round of both the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup and the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, as well as the Dubai International Rally, the annual closing round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
In December 2011, the Club was elevated to the status of FIA Institute approved Regional Training Provider, making it one of only four national motoring authorities worldwide entrusted to deliver motor sport training programmes on behalf of the governing body.
Shortly afterwards, Sulayem established the Club’s own training and education division, the Motorsport Knowledge Institute, which now delivers FIA training to its counterparts worldwide for event organisation, with an emphasis on safety for officials, competitors and spectators.
In 2012, MKI teams delivered training programmes to national sport authorities in the Middle East, Africa and South America.
Sulayem also signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding with the ATCUAE’s counterpart in Moscow to train and prepare senior motor sport officials and volunteers for the inaugural F1 Grand Prix of Russia in 2014.
One of the biggest challenges presented by the arrival of Formula One racing in Abu Dhabi in 2009 was the need for 700 marshals and officials to help run the event smoothly and safely.
Volunteerism in the UAE was a relatively new concept, and before the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, there had been a maximum requirement for 150 marshals to help run major rallies or races.
For the inaugural event in 2009, half of the marshals needed had to be flown in from the UK. By then, Sulayem had already initiated a five-year programme to build a fully UAE-based group of Emirati and expatriate volunteers to serve the needs of the Grand Prix, and motor sport in general in the Emirates.
For the 2009 Grand Prix, Sulayem commissioned a study by a team of research specialists to examine the primary motives that influence volunteers to offer their services, time and expertise at motorsport events.
Based on their main findings, Sulayem launched a major recruitment and training programme, and set up the UAE Motorsport Marshals Club to manage and promote the growth of a national framework of motorsport officials, and run events in the UAE in a safe and professional manner.
Two years ahead of schedule, he achieved his goal to establish an entirely local-based team of officials and volunteers capable of handling the full spectrum of sporting responsibilities for the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and UAE motor sport in general.
In both 2011 and 2012, the FIA named UAE marshals as its Volunteer of the Year in worldwide motor sport.
Sulayem has driven a number of initiatives in support of the Club’s commitment to encourage greater participation in all areas of motor sport by UAE nationals.
Emiratis now play an increasingly active role in ensuring the safe and efficient running of the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, forming a significant part of the dedicated team of volunteer officials and marshals. In 2010, as part of the ATCUAE’s efforts to create more roles for UAE nationals in motor sport, Sulayem signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Takatof voluntary social programme designed by the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development to create a culture of volunteering throughout the Emirates.
A growing number of members of the UAE Motorsport Marshals Club set up by Sulayem are Emiratis. At the 2012 F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, 15% of the marshals were Emiratis.
In 2011, Sulayem established the UAE Motorsport Star programme to support some of the country’s best young racing drivers.
In the field of mobility, Sulayem has significantly expanded the role of the ATCUAE in offering vital service and guidance to motoring tourists and travellers.
The Club is the sole supplier in the UAE of official International Driving Permits, and Carnet De Passage en Douane - better known as carnets or trip tickets - which simplify customs formalities for those taking vehicles outside the country.
New official International Driving Permits are now easily recognisable as they carry the official logos of both the ATCUAE and the National Transport Authority, distinguishing them from unauthorised versions still finding their way into the market.
The Club operates a fast track system for the supply of official IDPs, CPDs and Certificates of Tourism at its Dubai headquarters in Al Mumzar.
In its role as official representative in the UAE of FIVA, the ATCUAE has made it possible for classic cars previously confined to museums, and private collections hidden away from the public, to appear on the UAE’s modern roads and highways. In June 2012, in collaboration with Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority, Sulayem introduced a new licensing service which classifies vehicles in six categories. Vehicles more than 30 years old can qualify for FIVA licences if they pass stringent mechanical and safety tests set by the Club.
This places the UAE among the leading countries in the world in the licensing of classic vehicles.
Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
In 1991, Sulayem founded the UAE Desert Challenge, and over the next few years he developed the event into one of the world’s most spectacular and demanding international cross country rallies for cars and trucks, as well as bikes and quads.
In 1993, Sulayem succeeded in taking the event into the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, and it remains the leading round of the series, attracting many of the world’s top drivers.
Two years later, the Desert Challenge doubled up for the first time as a round of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, and continues to attract the world’s top bike and quad riders to the dramatic desert terrain of the UAE.
The event entered a new era in March 2009 when it was renamed the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and is staged in its entirety in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, taking competitors on a testing adventure through the spectacular desert terrain of the Western Region of Al Garbia.
Reaching deep into the Liwa desert, the route crosses some of the most demanding landscapes on earth, testing drivers, riders, and machinery to the limit in the crossing of towering dunes and desert plains.
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
One of the biggest challenges for Sulayem’s organisational skills was the 2009 debut in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
As President of the ATCUAE, the sporting organisers of the event, he was in charge of a 700-strong team of officials and marshals tasked with ensuring the event ran smoothly and safely.
It was the first race run in both day and night time and was watched by a TV audience of more than 500 million people.
The race was an outstanding success, going on to earn the award as the best event in the 2009 F1 World Championship, and has since firmly established itself as one of the most popular and respected F1 events with drivers, teams, racing fans and the media.
In 2008, Sulayem was appointed Vice President of the FIA and a member of the World Motor Sport Council.
The FIA is the global sporting authority for motorsport and represents 100 million car owners in almost 200 countries. The World Motor Sport Council meets at least four times a year to decide on rules, regulations, safety and development of motor sport at every level, from karting to Formula One.
Headed by the FIA President, its membership is chosen by the FIA General Assembly, which contains representatives from national automobile clubs throughout the world.
In his FIA role, Sulayem has pioneered teaching, research and knowledge transfer initiatives in the UAE and elsewhere throughout the world, encouraging the continuing professional development of leading officials in the field.
In June 2013 he was named as chairman of the FIA’s Motor Sport Development Task Force, with the responsibility to devise a strategic plan to develop and grow motorsport in a sustainable manner over the next ten years. It will be the first such plan in the 109-year history of the FIA, and Sulayem immediately started a consultation process with motor sport stakeholders, including manufacturers, the media, promoters, fans and FIA member clubs around the world. He will brief the World Motorsport Council on progress at its September meeting in Croatia, when the other members of the task force will be nominated.He will present the ten-year plan to the FIA General Assembly for approval at the end of 2014.
Sulayem is a founding member of the Arab Council of Touring and Automobile Clubs, which aims to unite the FIA Clubs of Arabic-speaking territories.
Under Sulayem’s guidance, the ATCUAE started its work in this field in 2009 by conducting research into Volunteer Management at the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as well as an Economic Impact study of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the first of its kind in motor sport.
In 2010, Sulayem used a research-based approach to develop an FIA Strategy for the development of motorsport in the Middle East. This was the first such strategy ever developed by the FIA and has received widespread acclaim for its contribution to governance of the sport.
In 2012, Sulayem instigated a scientific research programme into hydration and the health and safety issues of motorsport volunteers and officials working in high temperatures.
This culminated in a report calling on national sporting authorities to take a lead role in countering risks to health and safety.
The report was based on extensive scientific research carried out by the Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE in conjunction with its academic partners at the University of Ulster, one of the UK’s top learning and research institutes, in a collaboration led by Professor David Hassan. It was presented by Sulayem to senior officials attending an assembly of Middle East and North Africa national motor sport authorities in Doha on 4 February 2013.
The FIA President, Jean Todt, who was on an official visit to the region, was present at the meeting to receive a copy of the study.
The research was carried out in the UAE in 2012 during the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in April, the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, and the Dubai International Rally in December.
The main findings of the study were backed up by strong recommendations that the region’s national motor sport authorities, and their Chief Medical Officers, offer structured advice to help marshals combat the risks of dehydration, which in extreme cases can be fatal.
The study showed the UAE as a leader in the field of sports science research. As its findings and recommendations were not limited to motor sport, or restricted to the Middle East, the report was distributed worldwide for the benefit of any sporting organisation that requires its staff to work in high temperature conditions.
A second report commission by Sulayem and delivered at the assembly said the MENA region can play an important part in shaping the future of motor sport on a global basis as its focus moves away from Europe.
The report contained a six-point plan aimed at increasing the region’s total number of competitors, officials and volunteers, and the number of motorsports events, by 20% by 2015.
It said one of the keys to success will be a firm commitment by MENA’s 22 national motor sport authorities to work together to create a new generation of national heroes, backed by funding from the FIA, the world governing body.
FIA Middle East Rally Championship
Sulayem’s success as a record-breaking driver in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship helped attract worldwide attention for the regional series, and brought greater international credibility for Middle East motor sport.
When the championship’s popularity faded in recent years, he responded by tasking an ATCUAE research team to develop a new strategic approach to breathe life back into the series.
In December 2012, the World Motorsport Council approved Sulayem’s plans to boost the championship by incorporating four additional title races to attract young driving talent and increase entries overall. As a result, the 2013 FIA Middle East Championship got under way in Qatar in January with a new look, the main drivers’ championship running alongside individual categories for Group N production cars, young drivers, and 2WD vehicles, as well as a T3 class for 2WD and 4WD buggies.
In another move instigated by Sulayem to reverse the trend of falling entries in recent years, the homologation period of some older rally cars was extended, giving a new lease of life to vehicles - and their drivers - which fell out of the series but can now continue until 2016.
At his instigation, the championship also featured a sophisticated new tracking system designed to eliminate route deviations. Tested successfully during the 2012 Dubai International Rally, the new upgraded system was developed to ensure a fairer level of competition, with realistic penalties replacing the harsher ones of recent years to allow those who stray off line to remain in contention.
Sulayem has been at the forefront of safe driving initiatives in the Middle East across four decades.
He started his association with this issue in a 1985 campaign in Kuwait to promote the use of safety belts in road cars. Later that year he also launched a similar campaign in the UAE in conjunction with the Government.
For his contribution, he was recognised with the Safety/Environment Campaigner of the Year award from the Institute of Motor Industry in 1991.
On an annual basis he gives numerous talks in schools and universities in the region on the subject. In his role as Vice President of the FIA, he is a strong supporter of the FIA ‘ Makes Roads Safe ‘ initiative.
Support for charities
Since launching his sporting career in the early 1980s, Sulayem has made a substantial contribution to the needs of wider society.
For many years he has been actively involved with social causes, lending his name to fund-raising events and endorsing brands where the proceeds are forwarded to pre-selected foundations and institutes. While his rally driving career ended in 2002, he has always been willing to bring himself, and some of his cars, out of retirement to raise much needed funds for charity and to support good causes, including taking special needs children for a spin on the Dubai Autodrome circuit.
When TAG Heuer invited Sulayem to join its famous line-up of brand ambassadors, he accepted in the condition that the entire proceeds of the deal would go to an international charity organisation, Save the Children.
In 2009 he gave permission for his image to be used in the driving game ‘Dirt 2’ on condition that his fees went to a range of good causes.
In the UAE he is a patron of a number of special needs charities.
He has also used his celebrity status to generate public contributions for good causes. In 2001 via MBC TV’s ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’, he raised AED250,000 for charities in Lebanon and the UAE. In 2006, he developed the ‘Ride with the Champion’ TV show which generated US$100,000 to a range of charities.
In 2012, he provided sponsorship support for the 15-strong UAE team taking part in the London Paralympic Games.
In July 2012, Sulayem was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of Ulster, one of the UK’s leading learning institutes, in recognition of his services to sport, civic leadership and charity.
Sulayem is the principal contributor to the book ‘Sport Management in the Middle East: A Case Study Analysis’, which was published in May 2013. It addresses the educational and professional needs of the sport industry in the Middle East, and has been hailed as one of the very best sport management books to be published in the last ten years. It was the first ever book examining the burgeoning growth of sport management in the Middle East, which has attracted global audiences through the F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a range of other international events, added to major sponsorships by Etihad and Emirates airlines. Professor David Hassan, a leading UK academic from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, and Dr Sean O Connor, Director of the ATCUAE, were the other contributors to the book, which was released by the world’s leading academic publishers, Routledge.
Sulayem was FIA Middle East rally champion 14 times in the years 1986-1991, 1994, and 1996-2002.
His record of individual rally victories is as follows:
- Dubai International Rally (15): 1985-88, 1991–95, 1997-2002
- Jordan International Rally (12): 1984, 1987–88, 1990, 1994, 1996-2002
- Qatar International Rally (9): 1988, 1990–91, 1996–98, 2000, 2001, 2002
- Oman International Rally (6): 1986-87, 1990–91, 1994, 1998
- UAE International Rally (5): 1996-99, 2001
- Rally of Lebanon (4): 1987, 1991, 1998–99
- Kuwait International Rally (4): 1985, 1988–89, 1996
- Bahrain International Rally (3): 2000, 2001, 2002
- Syrian International Rally (2): 2001, 2002
Other international rally wins
- Masafi 4WD Rally - UAE 1985
- Jebel Akhbar International Rally – Oman 1986
- Bosphorus Rally – Turkey 1991
- WRC Catalunya Rally – Group N 1992
- WRC Argentine Rally – Group N 1993
- Saudi Rally – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 2000
- 1986 Medal of Honour from King Hussein of Jordan
- 1987 President’s Cup from President Amine Gemayel of Lebanon
- 1999 Medal of Honour from King Abdullah of Jordan
Medal of Honour from Lebanese President Emile Lahoud UAE Sportsman of the Century from Agence France-Press (AFP)
- 2004 Medal of Honour from King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain
| Middle East Rally Champion
| Middle East Rally Champion
| Middle East Rally Champion
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