Last weekend, Jeddah hosted its third grand prix in just 16 months, which once again drew scrutiny from human rights groups. Before the event, Reprieve, a human rights organisation, issued a statement criticising F1‘s decision to hold a race in Saudi Arabia. Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, said that F1 has “never seriously engaged with human rights” and accused the sport of “whitewashing abuses by some of the world’s most repressive regimes.” Reprieve’s statement came after a coalition of 21 rights groups and Trade Unions wrote to F1 CEO, Stefano Domenicali, calling for disclosure of human rights articles in F1‘s contracts. Despite criticism from human rights groups, Saudi Arabia believes hosting events like F1 is helping to bring positive change to the country.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s minister of sports, emphasised that the grand prix event focuses on delivering benefits to the young population rather than gaining international recognition. He added that having hosted a number of major events in the country, such as boxing, women’s football and F1 races, it has resulted in significant positive impacts, including an increase in the number of gyms for boxing and greater participation in sports such as karting and rallying. With F1 only in its third year in Saudi Arabia, sports like boxing, football and rallying have already shown tremendous growth. Women’s football, for example, has gone from virtually nothing to having its first professional league.
Despite the positive impact of F1 in Saudi Arabia, the issue of human rights continues to overshadow the grand prix. Formula 1 drivers were more satisfied with safety measures this year, but many avoided expressing their opinions on human rights issues. Lewis Hamilton acknowledged the importance of raising awareness of human rights issues in the country and felt that F1 should be doing more. He believes that while attending events in a country with human rights issues, F1 is duty-bound to raise awareness and try to leave a positive impact. Although he does not have all the answers, he thinks that F1 needs to do more to address the issue.