A group of parliamentarians from across Europe wrote to the Emirati head of Formula 1’s governing body to voice concern about ‘sportswashing’ in Gulf countries ahead of the 2022 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mohammed ben Sulayem was elected president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) in December.
The Middle East has three races this year — in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi — with Qatar returning in 2023. All have long-term deals, with Bahrain recently agreeing an extension to 2036.
Seven times F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, well known for his social activism and sympathy for downtrodden minorities, received a letter from Ali AlHajee activist and political prisoner in Bahrain.
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) wrote to F1 drivers, Sebastian Vettel, George Russell, Lando Norris and Max Verstappen to call on them to “stand against war everywhere” and “uphold the same standards” they applied in their public stances in support of Ukraine when it comes to victims in “Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia… not only in Europe”
‘Sportswashing’ is levelled at countries using sport to improve their tarnished image abroad
The letter noted that Bahrain and the UAE are participants in a Saudi-led military coalition involved in an eight-year-long war in Yemen against the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement.
The signatories applauded the FIA for cancelling the Russian Grand Prix after the invasion of Ukraine but asked it to “apply the same moral standards in condemning violations and supporting victims in all countries where F1 races take place.
“We are concerned that the FIA and F1 are actively facilitating sportswashing in Gulf countries and their continued failure to raise abuses committed by these regimes creates a stark double standard,” the letter added.
F1 said it “worked hard to be a positive force wherever it races”, took its responsibilities on rights very seriously and had high ethical standards written into contracts.
The Bahrain government said the kingdom “led human rights reform in the region and to suggest otherwise does not reflect current-day reality.
“Bahrain welcomes and actively supports the role Formula One can play in shedding light on human rights issues in all countries it operates in, now and in the future,” said a spokesperson.
The London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) has also written to F1 boss Stefano Domenicali and four drivers who spoke out against the war in Ukraine about the sportswashing trend ion the region.
27 NGOs have written to Formula 1 (F1) CEO, Stefano Domenicali, to raise human rights concerns ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend;
The letter raises concerns over F1’s recent decision to reward Bahrain with what was termed the longest race contract deal ever signed “despite continuing serious human rights abuses […] and political repression in Bahrain”;
Rights groups criticised F1 for its “failure to engage with civil society and acknowledge rights abuse in Bahrain” and highlighted the case of Bahraini political prisoner, Dr Abduljalil AlSingace, who’s been on hunger strike for over 250 days and who was arrested 11 years ago this week (17 March 2011). His strike was raised with Lewis Hamilton in November;
Rights groups praised F1’s cancellation of its race in Russia but condemned the company for creating a “clear double standard” regarding Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) participation in the war in Yemen, stating there is “one rule applied for victims of war in Europe and another for victims in the Middle East”;
Their letter calls upon F1 to use its platform to secure redress for victims whose abuse was connected to their races, review their policy on racing in Gulf states in light of their participation in the war in Yemen, evaluate their contract with Bahrain and reconsider setting up an independent commission of experts to investigate abuses connected to F1’s activities in Bahrain;
Ahead of the Bahrain GP, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) wrote to F1 drivers, Sebastian Vettel, George Russell, Lando Norris and Max Verstappen to call on them to “stand against war everywhere” and “uphold the same standards” they applied in their public stances in support of Ukraine when it comes to victims in “Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia […] not only in Europe”.