The head of Formula 1’s governing body warned on Tuesday that online insults, including death threats, against volunteers and officials could destroy the sport if left unchecked.
Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said a female steward had recently received death threats while the staff had been subjected to years of harassment and hatred.
“The level of persistent toxicity has reached a critical point. The time has come for all of us to come together and act,” he said in an article published on motorsport.com and the FIA website.
Spanish steward Silvia Bellot was targeted after compatriot and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was penalized at the US Grand Prix in Austin, then reinstated a few days after the review.
Ben Sulayem said that such violence had a devastating effect on the mental health of officials and volunteers, without whom there would be no racing.
“It is extremely unfortunate that a volunteer like Sylvia, or any of our marshals and officials who volunteer their time to allow us to race, is the subject of such hatred,” he wrote.
“We have to ask ourselves, who would want to become a high-ranking official in this environment? The reality is clear – if this continues, it will destroy our sport.”
The President said the FIA is talking to social media platforms and working with governments and other sports governing bodies “to make a strong commitment to joint action.”
The FIA also commissioned a study on online abuse in sports and partnered with technology platform Arwen to detect and remove offensive content using artificial intelligence software.
Formula One and Teams 10 have also worked with social media platforms and Arwen to report and block online abuse. A new and younger audience has been drawn to Netflix’s documentary series Drive to Survive, but commentators note that fans are becoming more “tribal” as the sport’s popularity grows.
Last season’s final race was hugely controversial, with Max Verstappen denying Lewis Hamilton a record-breaking eighth title after the now-departed FIA race director Michael Masi changed the procedure for using the safety car. Masi said in July that he had received death threats online, while Verstappen and Hamilton spoke out in Mexico this month about social media becoming increasingly toxic.
In July, Formula 1 launched the “Drive it Out” initiative following incidents of racist and homophobic spectator behavior and sexual harassment of female fans at races.
Ben Sulayem said the FIA would launch a concerted campaign using the power of a federation representing 146 countries on five continents.