Guest Podcast: Bikes, Racing and Dirty Money - The History Of Unsavory Financial Backing In Grand Prix Motorcycling

The announcement at Misano that Darryn Binder would be partnering Andrea Dovizioso in the newly launched RNF Yamaha team – the successor to the Petronas SRT squad – was almost the last piece of the 2022 MotoGP puzzle.

Almost, because the final piece is yet to be put in place: the official announcement of the VR46 team taking over from Esponsorama, including their rider line up – expected to be Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi – and, most controversially and importantly, their title sponsor.

The initial announcement was made way back in April, with the Tanal Entertainment Sports & Media group announcing a partnership with the VR46 team, and the backing of Saudi Arabia's state oil company, Aramco.

That announcement was met in some quarters – including on this website – with dismay. It was a blatant case of sportswashing, the practice by which repressive authoritarian regimes try to sanitize their international image by staging or backing high profile sporting events, organizations, or athletes.

Since the announcement, the trail appears to have gone cold, with official announcements being continuously moved back and postponed, and hard details of deals and contracts not being given. This has given rise to the suspicion that there are elements of the deal which are either suspect, or perhaps even nonexistent. Reporting on this issue has been thin on the ground, the pandemic and the motorcycle racing media either unwilling or unable to investigate thoroughly.

Fortunately, some outside the traditional racing media have had both the opportunity and the inclination to investigate. Sandrine Wyrich, journalism student at the University of the West of Scotland, put together an audio program as part of her Broadcast Journalism MA, entitled "Bikes, Racing and Dirty Money", which looks into the history of sportswashing in grand prix motorcycle racing. The show investigates sports diplomacy, and traces the history of unsavory financial backing  in the sport throughout its history, from the past to the present.

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Thanks David. Relevant, and can be skipped or skimmed by those that prefer. Just like arguing about Rossi vs Marquez, or anything else.

Team Manager Pablo Nieto JUST said:

"Both the official VR46 MotoGP and Moto2 teams are due to have new title sponsorship from (Bonesaw) next season. Doubts have been cast over the deal, but Nieto says slow progress is being made.

"As you know we made the agreement with (Bonesaw) and things are going very slow," he said. "There are some delays, but we are on the way and have to keep working."


Not wishing them any luck. 

Interesting stretches and feet in multiple places for the whole of VR46 now. MotoGP? Ducati bike lease. (Bezz may be right there with Martin for Red's future. And, he is left on the old kit. Marini gets coddled into family favoritism).

Moto2 though? Now a Yamaha co-venture bringing the diverse group of kids over from CEV Moto2 adding two more bikes. Not Italian, these kids are mostly from Asia I think. For Blue?! Huh?

Moto3, just pipelining kids from the Academy to two teams, Avintia and Snipers. Easy enough. But what the heck, this looks incohesive. Or, just non-aligned with anything that does not immediately serve the wants of the autonomous Ranch kids and Vale. Grabbing at (Bonesaw) funding AND involvement with their regime? The hodge-podge structure is sitting atop a hornets nest and a shit pile. Aligned primarily with your own desires/whims leaves vulnerability and instability. The victims of that will be many and unclear, but isn't likely to leave anyone unscathed. Up until 2015 I was overtly supportive, although not a particular/adherent fan. Huge respect and admiration. So beautiful on the bike! Joyful celebrations! No more. I think the Rossi legacy is on a hinge right now in a way we haven't seen for another legendary rider. The fanciful bunch running VR46 needs wise counsel. Fingers crossed.

'Shrink, is there really any "clean" sponsorship?

Saudi money may be dirtier than some, and relative to what? If you do any real digging, you can probably find questionable ties everywhere? Not being disrespectful or combative, just playing a bit of devil's advocate.

The "forward-looking" Muslims in that whole area are looking to invest. Just like the rest of the World. It just so happens that they finally cast an eye on one of MotoGP's biggest prizes...a tie-in with VR46. It's also possible that a few of them are genuine fans of the sport.

Going to listen to this podcast now. I may edit this response after listening. ;)

^ Good thoughts friend! (Again, please skip this WHOLE SHEBANG if it isn't racing, that can be right for some other folks). Lots of ethical models there for us (Kant is my preferred), and logic/critical thinking guidelines (it is good to get aware that we are positing a fallacy! Every one is always growing). For me, there is a continuum of dirty vs clean. On it are certain thresholds, I always favor a 5 scale for things. It isn't all relativistic or subjective, is it? Additionally, there are many factors besides quantitative "dirty." Some are a big deal, some less. Motive, fit with motorsport. Kind of harm/dirt (human rights/crime/murder by autocrat zealot is not same as profit for a phone company board). Et al. 

There is no zero dirt in the real world, there is no reason to get fundamentalist/absolutist. So we have 1 2 3 4 5. There ARE good Muslims all over the place! To be clear, this is not about any particular religion. Malaysia was welcomed! So was our first Muslim rider, the fish. But this Saudi regime, I think it is a 4.6 out of 5 of filth. We have Oil Co's, bad (environment), good for fueling and lubricating a high perf engine. Related product. 3? Energy drinks, I used to drink them some when racing, but they are meth in a can and bad for kids. 3.2? Tobacco, used by a number of fans, a bit like energy drinks but worse. But they are choosing it, and it is a pleasant health hazard. 3.5? So forth. And 70% of us would generally consensus relatively, even disagreement doesn't derail the trending. Each could be briefly educated with a fact checked synopsis paragraph.

I wish there were zeros, but their aren't. I prefer nothing over 2.9, and am fairly realistic re the 3's. But a threshold is breached in that worst 20%, and yet another further along. Not just quantitavely different, but qualitatively. I think the Saudi regime is in the realm of hyperbole. It is not necessary either. VR46 isn't a desperate person trying to feed self and child or stay warm enough not to die. 

But this whole thread is dedicated to the history of "questionable" sponsorship, so those who don't like it can take their business elsewhere. Or just not read it. Either is fine by me.

Rossi isn't stupid by a long shot. But I think he's thinking "...if not me, someone else is gonna take the millions in Saudi sponsorship, so why not me?  Besides, look at everything I'm bankrolling. And I got a kid on the way!"  :D

Good talkin' to ya!