MPs voice concern over F1's failure to act on human rights

25/11/2020
NEWS STORY

Despite the slogans, hashtags and virtue signalling, many are still concerned that when it comes to human rights, F1 continues to put profit first.

Ahead of this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, a group of thirty British MPs has written to Chase Carey warning him of the country's record on human rights and urging him to take action as opposed to merely words.

"It's deeply disappointing that we haven't seen more progress from F1 when it comes to 'sportswashing' and Bahrain's human rights record," Layla Moran MP, the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson who sent the letter on behalf of the 30 signatories, told the Daily Mail.

"We can't let human rights ever be a secondary consideration," she continued. "They must care for Bahrainis negatively impacted by the Grand Prix as much as they do for participants. We can't let human rights ever be a secondary consideration.

"That's why we're calling on Formula 1 to use its leverage to compel Bahrain to end the suppression of protests against the race, secure redress for victims and ensure the rights of Bahraini citizens are defended."

The letter comes at a time seven-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton is making the headlines as much for his activism as his race-craft, and while the sport's bosses have been quick to latch on to the Briton's calls for action there has been little sign of any real commitment.

Indeed, it was recently confirmed that F1 is heading to Saudi Arabia next year with a street race in Jeddah. A country widely claimed to have a worse record on human rights than Bahrain.

"When F1's most successful driver is speaking out about human rights, it is shameful that F1 is continuing to allow its Bahraini partners to 'sportswash' their abysmal human rights record," said Green Party leader Caroline Lucas.

"It is people like Salah Abbas and her son Kameel who are paying the price for this," she added, referring to the anti-government protestor who was killed on the eve of the 2012 race. "I hope this letter helps to spotlight the need for F1 to urgently intervene on their behalf ahead of this week's races in Bahrain."

In response to the letter, the Bahraini government issued a brief statement:

"Bahrain takes its obligations in this regard extremely seriously," it read, "and is committed to upholding and maintaining the highest standards of human rights protection, including the right to free expression.

"Strong and effective constitutional and legal safeguards are in place to protect such rights and freedoms, with well-established, independent and transparent mechanisms to investigate and remedy (and where appropriate, prosecute) any shortcomings.

"No person is arrested or prosecuted for the peaceful expression of their opinion, and all persons arrested (regardless of the charge) benefit from full due process safeguards, including the right to representation and the right to fair trial before Bahrain's independent judiciary. Further, the claims of torture and/or retribution are categorically denied."

Speaking over the Turkish Grand Prix weekend, just days after the Saudi Arabia event was confirmed, Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, president of the Saudi Arabian motorsport federation, reacted to Amnesty International's claim that the Jeddah race is an attempt to 'sportswash' the country's record on human rights.

"I know, I don't blame them," he said, when asked about the negative reaction to the event's announcement from many of those outside the sport. "When you don't know a country and when you have a certain image of a country... I remember myself when my parents used to tell me we were going to go to the US, especially to New York, I was frightened, I was thinking that I was going to walk the streets and somebody is going to come and shoot me, because I'd never been there.

"So I know why they're not excited about it, because of a lot of issues with the human rights, because they've never been to Saudi.

"That's why now for us opening up and hopefully people coming to Saudi Arabia and seeing the country and then going back and reporting what they saw, maybe this will make people change their mind and come.

"One of these issues, why we had this bad image, it was because we were closed," he admitted. "Our country is closed. So part of the vision and part of opening up our country is we would like people to come and see who we really are.

"We don't have anything to hide," he insisted. "If we want to 'sportwash' our image or something, we would close our country because we would not let you come and see and meet with our people."

The 30 MPs and Amnesty International will be even more concerned if rumours linking the Saudi's to a buy-out of the sport turn out to be true.

Liberty Media is rapidly discovering that F1 isn't the sport it thought it was buying and is therefore looking to sell, with the Saudis looking the most likely purchaser.

Of course, Bahrain, and the Abu Dhabi event that follows, are the only circuits on the 2020 schedule paying a hosting fee.

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Published: 25/11/2020
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