In a decision that sent shockwaves through the Supercross community, James Stewart's 16-month suspension from racing, resulting from a failed drug test in April at Seattle Supercross, has a bit more than just him, his fans and fans of Supercross up in arms.
In a letter sent to Vito Ippolito, president of the FIM, by Rob Dingman, president/CEO of the American Motorcyclist Association, Dingman doesn't mince many words in expressing his outrage in how the FIM handled the Stewart suspension. The letter, dated December 17, 2014, was obtained by Vital MX and is posted on their website.
While some applaud the AMA's stance, others say it's an empty shell, and now that the FIM is front and center of this controversy many are questioning why a foreign governing body gets to stick its hands into American racing. Still others say Stewart used a banned substance therefore he's subject to whatever penalty gets imposed upon him.
The FIM is the Fèdèration Internationale de Motocyclisme the global governing/sanctioning body of motorcycle racing. It was founded 110 years ago in France and today boasts more than 100 affiliations around the world including the AMA. In short, the FIM, which is now headquartered in Switzerland, can decide the fate of Supercross and Motocross athletes in the United States who violate rules.
The AMA, founded in 1924, is the only United States affiliate to the FIM. Through its affiliation with the FIM, the AMA also licenses its riders to compete in international events and coordinates world championship events held in the United States.
The FIM establishes and enforces racing rules and calendars for all types of international competition, ranging from Motocross and road racing to trials and enduros. As the world governing body, the FIM designates the AMA to govern motorcycle sports in the United States. In the 1960s, the AMA established a closer working relationship with the FIM and in October 1970 the FIM accepted the AMA as its United States representative. This affiliation allows for the United States to host world championship motorcycle races.
The FIM-sanctioned World Supercross Championship started in 2003 and merged with the AMA-sanctioned Supercross Championship in 2008 into a single consolidated championship, governed by the FIM.
While the current AMA Supercross is an "FIM World Championship" series, the AMA Pro Motocross Championship series is not. The FIM organizes the Grand Prix Motocross World Championship or MXGPs, mostly held in Europe, but with events in numerous countries including the United States. The MXGPs is also an FIM World Championship series.
Motocross in the United States, often called Outdoors, is sanctioned by the AMA and managed by MX Sports Pro Racing. This can be seen similar to the British Motocross Championship which is governed by the Auto-Cycle Union which is independent of the FIM.
No one doubts Stewart messed up or at least his team. He failed a drug test taken after Seattle Supercross in April, testing positive for Adderall, which he did not deny ingesting. Stewart said it was prescribed to help with attention deficit disorder. The hang up is he did not get a Therapeutic Use Exemption by the World Anti-Doping Agency prior to the drug test. The drug is on WADA's banned substance list but can be legally used by athletes who submit a TUE.
Stewart filed TUE paperwork after the failed drug test which doesn't grandfather its legality. However, the TUE was eventually granted thus in many people's eyes, cleared Stewart of wrong doing at least as far as using performance enhancing drugs. Little disagree that some type of punishment should be imposed on Stewart whether a hefty fine and/or a several round suspension.
The FIM provisionally suspended Stewart though he was allowed to race in the 2014 Motocross season, once again, a series sanctioned by the AMA, overseen by MX Sports and not affiliated with the FIM. This week, eight months after the failed drug test, the FIM ruled and suspended Stewart for 16 months, retroactive to April 12 - the date of the failed drug test. He is eligible to race again when two rounds remain in the 2015 Motocross season.
The FIM ruling more or less disqualifies Stewart from racing anywhere. Critics say its career ending. He turns 29 on Sunday. Even his results in the 2014 Motocross season, while under provisional suspension, are negated. This poses the question of why the provisionally suspended Stewart could race in the non-FIM sanctioned Motocross and then once officially suspended his results in the 2014 Motocross series were negated.
Frustration with the final decision stems from the length of time the FIM took to decide on Stewart's fate. In October, Stewart prepared for the Monster Energy Cup with hopes of having his provisional suspension status lifted. No decision. No racing. (If he could race in Motocross with the possibility of having his results disallowed then why not the Monster Cup?)
Now with less than three weeks from the start of the 2015 Supercross season the FIM finally drops the hammer, no doubt after Stewart has spent the last few months preparing to race, and now with little time to build an appeals case and get a ruling before the gates drop at A1 on January 3.
In Dingman's letter to Ippolito, he writes: "The fact that this adjudication took eight (8) months from the time the sample was take is intolerable." He also says, "...the penalties seem to seek to punish the AMA and its contract partners as well" and he calls the 16-month suspension "arbitrary and capricious." He concludes the letter with "It is unfortunate that due to the FIM's unreasonable delays in this matter, that (Stewart's) appeal will not be able to be adjudicated by the (Court of Arbitration for Sport) in time for him to win his appeal and compete in the first round of the 2015 AMA Supercross Series."
In the past, Supercross held one race outside of the country, Toronto, and for the 2015 season no races are held outside of the United States. So, should a foreign entity provide oversight for racing in the United States? Perhaps it makes sense for a single world body to have oversight for a racing series held in various countries, like the MXGPs, but could not the AMA or some other sanctioning body with a brick and mortar address in the US provide oversight duties for racing held solely inside the United States?
Supercross was founded in America by an American. Read more about The History of Supercross.
Major League Baseball and the National Football League generally govern themselves. Foreign players can sign contracts with any team as long as they play by the rules in force by each league. Could Supercross and Motocross develop its own "league" with a commissioner who can take into account surrounding circumstances and swiftly act on any penalties for riders who violate the rules?
Cleary, something is broken with the FIM for taking eight months to decide on what should be an open and shut case. Now the relationship between the AMA, the FIM and Supercross fans is strained with multiple camps taking sides.
So, instead of a just outcome allowing Stewart to lick his wounds, learn from his mistakes and either take a hit to the pocket book and/or miss a few weeks of racing then return more determined than ever and with even die-hard Bubba fans applauding the would-be fair sanctions, the FIM's lengthy process and overwhelming iron fist has simply put Stewart in a corner, ticked off many in the racing community and raised the eyebrow, if not ire, of the AMA.
What a way to start the 2015 racing season.