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...Belgium fighting to survive

THE battles over the Belgian Grand Prix continue with the FIA having granted the organizers until February 15 to sort out the problems which have arisen from a Belgian government decision to ban tobacco advertising from the start of 1999. The FIA and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone say that the race will be scrapped immediately unless the Belgians back down and agree to allow the race to run in line with more lenient European Union legislation, which will bring an advertising ban in OctoberĘ2006.

This threat has led local businessmen to file an official complaint against the FIA with the European Competition Directorate, claiming that they will suffer financially if the race is canceled and that such a move would be in contravention of articles in the Treaty of Rome. They have hired lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont to represent them. Dupont won international fame a couple of years ago by winning a case at the European Court of Justice on behalf of Belgian soccer player Jean-Marc Bosman. That decision swept away the old system of player transfers in soccer and opened up the market considerably.

The FIA defended its decision to threaten cancellation because the Belgian tobacco ban would break the terms of the current contract between the organization and the Belgian GP authorities, which runs until the year 2001.

The complaint will be dealt with by the EU Competitions Commissioner Karel Van Miert - a Belgian, who is already investigating other problems with the FIA.

Van Miert recently commented that the contract structure of Grand Prix racing was the worst example of anti-trust infringement he has seen during his term of office.

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