Lewis Hamilton urged to take a stand as Formula One heads to Saudi Arabia

By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent
·4-min read

Lewis Hamilton has been urged to speak out against Saudi Arabia’s “appalling” human rights record after it was announced that the country will stage its first Formula One race in 2021.

Saudi officials confirmed on Thursday that a night race will be held on the streets of Jeddah in November of next year. The grand prix is set to be the penultimate event of a record-breaking 23-round calendar.

F1 bosses have attracted criticism for the decision to stage a race in Saudi Arabia because of the country’s record on human rights. F1 follows golf, tennis, horse racing and boxing in heading to the Arab kingdom.

Amnesty International has claimed that 13 women’s rights defenders are currently on trial in Saudi Arabia, accused of promoting women’s rights and calling for the end of the male guardianship system, where every woman must have a male who has the authority to make a number of decisions on her behalf.

Ahead of the last race in Italy, six-time world champion Hamilton wore a T-shirt with the message: “Women’s rights are human rights.”

And, speaking to the PA news agency, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns Felix Jakens said: “If the sport’s most high-profile driver is willing to speak out and say, ‘Actually this is a country that has an appalling human rights record’, then that takes the sheen off Saudi Arabia’s ability to sportswash its image.

“It would be incredibly important if Lewis could speak out. However, the onus is not just on the star drivers but the whole industry to be aware of what is happening in Saudi Arabia.

“If the right people are prepared to speak out and make those kind of interventions it can really throw Saudi Arabia’s human rights’ record back under the spotlight and hopefully increase pressure on them to do the right thing.

“Formula One talks about diversification and inclusivity and appealing to LBGT people, so it needs to make a sustained effort on human rights ahead of this race.

“If they can show that everything in their supply chain is free from human rights violations then that would be a big thing. But we also want them to speak out in support of those jailed women’s human rights defenders and, more generally, the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.”

In the past, F1 has also faced criticism for staging races in China, Russia, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Azerbaijan.

An F1 spokesperson said: “For decades Formula One has worked hard be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits.

“Sports like Formula One are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.

“We take our responsibilities very seriously and have made our position on human rights and other issues clear to all our partners and host countries who commit to respect human rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered.”

Saudi Arabia’s sports minister HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal told the BBC: “Saudi Arabia was criticised for being closed off to the world, and now we’ve opened up, we’re criticised for sports-washing.

“For many Saudis this will be a dream come true. It’s a very special moment. We can showcase to the world what we’re capable of.”

The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi will stage the season-ending race
The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi will stage the season-ending race

The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi will stage the season-ending race (David Davies/PA)

Next year’s 23-round F1 schedule is due to be signed off in the coming weeks. It is understood that the campaign will get under way at Melbourne’s Albert Park on March 21, with the season to conclude in Abu Dhabi on December 5.

As revealed by the PA news agency last week, the British Grand Prix is set to avoid a direct clash with the Wimbledon men’s singles final and football’s Euro 2020 showpiece at Wembley.

It is understood the Silverstone round is due to take place on July 18, a week after the conclusion of SW19 and the delayed Euros.