F1’s Hamilton not ‘comfortable’ racing in Jeddah as Riyadh is accused of ‘sports washing’ rights abuses


World champion Lewis Hamilton admitted on Thursday that he is “not comfortable” racing in Saudi Arabia this weekend as the Gulf kingdom again faces “sports washing” accusations.

“Am I comfortable here? I wouldn’t say yes,” British driver Hamilton said at a press conference in Jeddah, where the penultimate race of the 2021 Formula One season will take place on Sunday.

“But this was not my choice. Our sport has chosen to be here and whether it is fair or not, I think that while we are here it is important to do some work to raise awareness.”

Hamilton has been a fierce advocate for human rights issues in recent years, kneeling on the grid in support of Black Lives Matter.

At the Qatar Grand Prix last month, he wore a helmet adorned with the colors of the LGBT + community.

He will wear it again in the Jeddah street race and in the season finale in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

“A lot of changes are needed and our sport must do more,” added seven-time champion Hamilton.

Meanwhile, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel organized a karting event for a group of female drivers on Thursday.

Women are only allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia since 2018.

“Seeing the confidence of these women and giving them this opportunity in a field dominated by men, it’s great and it gave me a lot of pleasure,” said Germany’s Vettel.

“Of course there are deficiencies to correct, but I believe that the positive is a more powerful weapon than the negative.”

Accusations of ‘sports washing’

Sunday’s Formula One race is among several major events drawn in recent times to Saudi Arabia, which has also hosted heavyweight boxing and European Tour golf and faces accusations of “sports washing”, trying to divert attention from your human rights record.

Saudi Arabia has embarked on a series of reforms under its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Formula One is part of a campaign to show a friendlier face as the world’s top oil exporter tries to attract foreign companies and diversify its economy.

Yet critics point to one of the highest execution rates in the world and a crackdown on dissidents.

“There has been a fight against the kingdom for years, and it is being fought for political reasons … some people do not want its success,” the country’s motorsports chief Prince Khalid bin Sultan al-Faisal told AFP. this week.

“There are those who say the kingdom is backward and against human rights … of course, no one is perfect and the larger nations that cling to freedom and human rights have more criticism than their fair share in those fields.

“We have confidence in ourselves, and this war will continue, and we will continue on our way, and the door is open for everyone to visit us and know who we really are,” said the prince.

However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Saudi Arabia is using the Grand Prize, which will also feature pop star Justin Bieber as the lead artist, to “distract from widespread human rights violations.”

“If they do not voice their concerns about the serious abuses committed by Saudi Arabia, Formula 1 and performers risk supporting the Saudi government’s costly efforts to whitewash their image despite the significant increase in repression throughout. over the years, “said Michael Page, HRW deputy director. for the Middle East.

“If the authorities want to be seen differently, they should immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been imprisoned for peacefully expressing their views, lifting travel bans and imposing a moratorium on the death penalty,” he added Amnesty International in a statement.