- Motorsport should not be a political platform, the head of Formula One’s governing body told CNBC.
- FIA President Jean Todt’s remarks came on Tuesday after the sport faced criticism for holding a grand prix in Saudi Arabia later this week.
- F1 star and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton has called Saudi Arabia’s repression of LGBTQ people “horrible”.
The leader of the top international auto racing organization said it is not the role of motorsport to “get into political issues”, as Formula One faces criticism for allowing a grand prix in Saudi Arabia to go ahead this weekend Does matter.
“Motorsport should not be used as a political platform. It is absolutely necessary,” said Jean Todt, president of Formula One’s governing body, the FIA.
Human rights groups have called the F1 . has urged To use its power to challenge abuse in Saudi Arabia, accusing the sport of ignoring its commitment to equality and diversity. Activists accuse Formula One of being too involved “Washing Game” for the Saudi government.
The final Grand Prix of the 2021 season takes place in the coastal city of Jeddah on Sunday. It will be the first long-term contract for Saudi Arabia to host an F1 race. One of the sport’s biggest stars expressed his displeasure about racing in Saudi Arabia.
Seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, who is vying for an eighth title against current championship leader Max Verstappen, said on Thursday he was uncomfortable running in the country because of his human rights record. But he acknowledged that “the sport has chosen to be here.”
“And whether it is right or wrong, while we are here, it is important that we try to raise awareness,” he said, describing the country’s repression of LGBTQ people as “horrible.”
Saudi Arabia forbids homosexuality, citing Islamic Sharia law, and LGBTQ people face persecution there. This topic is highly taboo throughout the Middle East. Hamilton has vowed to wear the rainbow helmet at the final races of the season in Saudi Arabia and in Abu Dhabi. The Mercedes driver wore a helmet for the first time at the last race in Qatar to protest anti-LGBTQ laws in the country.
The Saudi government and the Saudi embassy in the UK did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment on Friday.
Todd tapped his remarks with CNBC on Tuesday ahead of Hamilton’s comments. The executive defended Formula One against the criticism in his interview, which aired on Friday.
“Having said that, by going to some countries where there are some doubts about the way things are going, we give people a chance to talk, and I think we give countries some more visibility,” Todd said. “Whoever wants to speak, who wants to demonstrate, has complete freedom – they can do it.”
Other drivers have stood up for LGBTQ rights, such as Aston Martin driver and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. For example, he wore a rainbow-colored shirt during the national anthem at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
On Saudi Arabia in particular, Todd argued that much progress has been made in recent years.
“Saudi Arabia could not host an international event until 2018 because women were not allowed to drive, now women can drive, so changes are taking place, but we should not get involved in political matters,” he said.
As the only black driver in F1 history, Hamilton has also been a passionate advocate for racial equality. Since the killing of George Floyd last year and the subsequent global protest movement, many drivers have joined British racers in taking a knee before a race to draw attention to racial injustice.
Todd told CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore that he respected and admired Hamilton’s leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion, which he called a “global problem that needs to be addressed.”
“Before each start of the Grand Prix, we give the drivers space to be able to demonstrate their attention to the problem, but of course, more needs to be done,” he said.
Todd’s reluctance to act on issues of human rights and freedom of expression is in stark contrast to that of Steve Simon, president and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association.
Simon announced this week that the WTA would suspend all tournaments in China after the Chinese government accused tennis player Peng Shuai of sexual harassment. He accused Beijing of censoring Peng and failing to prove that he is “free and capable of speaking freely and without interference or intimidation.”
“None of this is acceptable, nor can it be acceptable. If powerful people can suppress women’s voices and press charges of sexual harassment down the rug, that is the basis on which the WTA was founded. – equality for women – will be dealt a major blow,” Simon said in a statement on Thursday.