Saudi Arabia’s plan of hosting F1 races helps legitimise its repressive regime, says rights group


Allowing Saudi Arabia to host Formula 1 races would only serve to further the kingdom’s “sportswashing” and help legitimise the country’s repressive regime, Human Rights Watch said.

Against a backdrop of increased investment in sport, Saudi Arabia has a human rights record described by Amnesty International as “heinous” and Human Rights Watch director, Minky Worden, insisted F1 needed to seriously consider its position.

“There is no evidence that F1 is going to a place that seriously represses human rights has improved conditions there,” she said. “On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence that F1’s presence has degraded human rights conditions and worsened conditions.”

Plans for a new Qiddiya circuit outside the capital Riyadh were unveiled in recent weeks and the track could be ready to host a race in 2023. F1 is in talks with Saudi Arabia but will not make any comment on the proposed race.

Saudi Arabia already hosts a round of Formula E and the gulf kingdom has been significantly stepping up its sporting ventures of late. The kingdom also hosted the Dakar rally last month.

The world heavyweight bout between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. in December was staged in a purpose-built arena near the capital, the Spanish Super Cup was held at the 62,000-capacity King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah and next month the world’s richest horse race, the $20m Saudi Cup, will be staged.

Formula One has already received considerable criticism for racing in Bahrain and Azerbaijan. “From our research on the ground in Bahrain and Azerbaijan, the arrival of F1 led to abuses and did not help the human rights conditions,” Worden said. “There is quite a bit of evidence that F1 has ignored its own human rights commitment [made in 1995]by going to these countries and overlooked human rights abuses and taken no action to make them better.”

A spokesman for F1, however, defended the sport’s record. “For decades Formula One has worked hard to bring a positive imprint to everywhere it races including economic, social and cultural benefits,” a statement read. “We take our human rights responsibilities very seriously and make this position clear to every race promoter and host country. We believe that working with countries and giving their citizens to chance to attend global sports and entertainment events is a force for good.”

In recent years Saudi Arabia has made reforms, allowing women to drive and easing the strict and discriminatory male guardianship laws.

Much publicity was also generated by the Saudi woman Aseel Al-Hamad driving a Renault F1 car at the French Grand Prix weekend in 2018. What was not publicised, however, was that some of the activists who worked to campaign to allow women to drive remain imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.

“There are real reforms and HRW acknowledges those but they also mask ongoing repression and major sports events also mask ongoing repression,” said Worden. “F1 should not be making any deal with Saudi Arabia until they have sat down with women’s rights activists who are imprisoned and have been tortured in detention.

“F1, as part of their inspection visit, should ask to visit these women – Loujain al-Hathloul, Samar Badawi ,Nassima al-Sadah and Nouf Abdulaziz – and ask for their release.” (Source: The Guardian)