Hamilton: F1 ‘duty bound’ to raise awareness of human rights

Formula One is “duty bound” to raise awareness of human rights issues as the series closes its season in the Middle East, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said on Thursday.

F1 concludes its season with its inaugural races in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, followed by the season finale in Abu Dhabi, where the series has raced since 2009. F1 has raced in Bahrain since 2004 and now has four stops in the Middle East on its calendar.

Hamilton has spoken out on human rights issues before and played a role in the release of a political prisoner earlier this year.

“There are issues in these places that we’re going to, as there are around the world, but of course (the Middle East) seems to be deemed as the worst in this part of the world,” Hamilton said ahead of Sunday’s race, the first in a 10-year deal between F1 and Qatar.

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“I do think as these sports go to these places, they’re duty bound to raise awareness for these issues and (that) these places need scrutiny, need the media to speak.”

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been accused of “sportswashing” their human rights records by using high-profile sporting events to project a favourable image of the countries. Qatar hosts the World Cup next year.

‘Long way to go’

“Equal rights is a serious issue,” Hamilton said. “They are trying to make steps. It can’t change overnight. I heard there are things like a new reform with the “kafala” system that was (still) in place a couple of years ago. There’s a long way to go. I just feel that if we are coming to these places, we need to be raising the profile of the situation. I think we can still bring a spotlight to it and create that scrutiny and that pressure that could hopefully create change.”

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Governments in the region did not immediately respond to The Associated Press regarding Hamilton’s comments.

Hamilton and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas on Thursday were the only two drivers out of the 20 on the F1 grid to directly address human rights issues in the region. “I agree that there is plenty of work to do to raise awareness of situations around the world. I am definitely supporting that,” Bottas said. “I think we are trying to show as a sport that we are really equal and that it is possible.”

Valterri Bottas of Mercedes and Finland during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar. – GETTY IMAGES


Attention has been given to human rights issues beyond F1, and on Thursday the Danish Football Association told BBC Sport that Denmark will put “extra pressure” on FIFA over human rights concerns ahead of the Qatar World Cup. Denmark’s sponsors will withdraw their logos from training uniforms, BBC Sport reported, to make space for messages critical of Qatar. Commercial partners will also not travel to the World Cup.

Football fans from German giant Bayern Munich urged the club to cut ties with Qatar’s national airline. Amnesty International also released a report in August accusing Qatari officials of doing little to investigate thousands of young migrant workers’ deaths in the country over the past decade, which includes preparations for the World Cup.

Human rights activists denounced FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s appearance in a promotional video for the Saudi Arabian government in which he said the kingdom has made important changes. Premier League football club Newcastle has also faced heavy scrutiny recently for its Saudi ownership.

Hamilton acknowledged on Thursday he’s not always been educated on the issues. A Briton and the only Black driver on the F1 grid, he has taken very public stances on issues of social justice, including racism and support for the LGBTQ community. “I’ve been to a lot of these countries and been ignorant, been (unaware) of some of the problems,” he said.

“It’s down to whether you decide to educate yourself and hold the sport more accountable. It takes time to go out and learn more about a region that’s foreign to us. We’re not from these areas, it’s incredibly complex on the ground in these places, with religion. So many complexities that it’s difficult to even understand them all.

“One person can only make a certain amount of difference, but collectively we can have a bigger impact,” Hamilton added. “Do I wish that more sportsmen and women spoke out on these issues? Yes.”

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