Sergei Kariakin might be openly critical of the FIA’s policy that Russian competitors denounce their country’s invasion of Ukraine, with those who refuse being prohibited from entering events overseen by the body, but he still thinks he can talk—or write, in this case—his way out of it in time for the 2023 Dakar Rally. On Thursday, he submitted a letter to FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem requesting for the rule to be lifted.
“Dear Mohammed Ahmad Sultan Ben Sulaye, my name is Sergei Kariakin,” begins the letter.
“I’m contacting you as a race driver, winner of Dakar, 8 time in a row competitor of this rally-raid. But this year my sports plan has been changed.
“Our team were unable to continue participation in World Cup calendar due to need of signing of special paper for Russian athletes.
“In my opinion signing this document is against the basis of neutrality to politics which is a universal fundamental ethical principle what is also described Article 3 of the FIA Code of Ethics.
“There are more than 18 years of racing passed for me, which is more than half of my life. For these years I have clearly learned that fundamental principle is equality of conditions for all athletes which is strictly followed by FIA.
“Duty to sign ‘driver commitment’ document to be able to start the race violates the international principles of equal conditions for athletes.
“I would be very grateful if you could find an opportunity for my participation, giving fair conditions and cancel the rule to sign this document.
“Thank you and looking forward for your reply!
“Sincerely, Sergei Kariakin”
Speaking to state-run outlet TASS, Kariakin explained that as Sulayem is a former racer, he figured the president “knows what it is like to give half his life to sports and what it’s like for an athlete to be excommunicated from competition for political reasons.”
Kariakin, the 2017 Dakar Quad winner and current SSV owner/driver for SNAG Racing, has strongly resisted the FIA’s “emergency measures” implemented a week after the invasion began; the documents declare Russian and Belarusian signees would condemn the war, stand in solidarity with Ukraine, agree to compete under another nationality or a neutral FIA flag, and understand they would not be permitted to place their country’s symbols on their equipment. Although some like Konstantin Zhiltsov and Denis Krotov signed and will be Dakar-bound, Kariakin has decried it as a “double standard”. His opposition is unsurprising as Kariakin is a supporter of President Vladimir Putin and ran for office in 2021 as part of the pro-Putin party United Russia. He has also routinely joined in calling the invasion a “special operation” and attended military events such as a Rosgvardiya exercise in April (as shown in featured image).
Others to announce they would not sign the measures include fellow SSV racer Anastasiya Nifontova and nineteen-time Truck champion KAMAZ-master. SNAG’s Nikita Mazepin has not explicitly opted out, preferring to take a “neutral” stance and remaining positive about his chances to race at Dakar, though sanctions and his family’s ties to Putin make it unlikely unless he agrees to the FIA’s terms.
At some point, even the most optimistic outlook becomes naïvety. The deadline to register for the 2023 Dakar Rally is 31 October, and, barring a total collapse in the next two weeks, Russia has escalated its war rhetoric lately which gives the FIA little reason to reverse course. When Kariakin first declared in September that he would not sign the FIA policy, one user in the SNAG Racing Telegram mocked it as “‘urapatriotic’ nonsense.”
It has been 234 days since the full invasion began and twenty-four days since Russia started mobilising reservists, though the latter encompasses a sizeable chunk of the population due to conscription. KAMAZ, whose parent company builds trucks for the military, has had some team members summoned for army registration though none have been called into service as of this article’s publishing.