Bahrain rights group urges F1 drivers to speak up
Formula 1 drivers can help bring the sport out of a “moral vacuum” by racing at season-opening races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, human rights activists said on Tuesday.
Paul Scriven, member of the UK House of Lords, told a press conference organized by the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) that sport is at a fork in the road.
“There are two roads that F1 can now take. One is the moral vacuum that leaders and administrators seem to be walking through,” Scriven said.
“There is another path that seems to be taken by some riders… who understand that they can use their platform and their sport not only for the sake of sport, but also for good and for change, and that they cannot ignore human rights violations in country they are entering.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time world champion, has used his profile to fight rights violations and racial injustice around the world.
Last December, the sport’s governing body updated the sport’s code, requiring drivers to obtain prior written permission to make or display “political, religious and personal statements or comments.”
Hamilton, who said in 2021 that Formula 1 cannot ignore the problems in the countries it visits, said he would continue to speak out and other drivers have said the same.
The opening race will take place in Bahrain on Sunday, followed by the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on March 19.
BIRD said that human rights in the two countries were “increasingly trampled” after last year’s Grand Prix and accused F1 of helping to “promote sports laundering of abuses”.
He called for an independent investigation to examine the role of race in human rights violations.
The accusation of “sport laundering” is aimed at countries that are believed to use sports to improve a tarnished image abroad.
BIRD said it had written to F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali urging him to meet with the victims and use “every leverage available” to secure the release of the imprisoned activists.
A statement was read on behalf of the families of 12 prisoners who, according to BIRD, face the death penalty in Bahrain.
The Bahraini government said it “strongly supports the role that Formula 1 can play in clarifying human rights issues in all the countries in which it operates.”
Scriven said Formula One drivers will have the right to refuse to race in certain countries if the sport fails to create a proper ethical framework.
F1 stated that it aimed to be a positive force wherever it raced and made its position on human rights and other issues clear to all partners and hosts.
A spokesman for the FIA, which does not draw up a calendar, said it could not interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, but was not indifferent “to any potential difficulties faced by those concerned.”