F1 shouldn’t get involved in politics, says FIA boss ahead of Saudi Grand Prix – .

F1 shouldn’t get involved in politics, says FIA boss ahead of Saudi Grand Prix – .

It is not the role of motorsport to ‘get involved in political issues’, said the leader of the largest international motor racing organization as Formula 1 was criticized for allowing a grand prix to take place in Saudi Arabia this weekend.
“Motorsport should not be used as a political platform. It’s absolutely essential, ”said Jean Todt, President of the FIA, which is the governing body of Formula 1.

Human rights groups have urged F1 to use its power to challenge abuses in Saudi Arabia, accusing the sport of ignoring its commitment to equality and diversity. Activists also accuse Formula 1 of being an accomplice in “sportswashing” for the Saudi regime.

The penultimate grand prix of the 2021 season takes place on Sunday in the coastal city of Jeddah. It will be the first of a long-term contract with Saudi Arabia to host F1 races. One of the sport’s biggest stars has expressed unease over running in Saudi Arabia.

Seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, who is chasing an eighth title against current championship leader Max Verstappen, said on Thursday he was uncomfortable racing in the country due to his record in human rights. But he conceded that “the sport made the choice to be here”.

“And whether it’s good or bad, while we’re here it’s important that we try to raise awareness,” he said, calling the country’s crackdown on LGBTQ people “terrifying”.

Saudi Arabia, citing Islamic Sharia law, bans homosexuality and LGBTQ people are persecuted there. The subject remains very taboo in the Middle East. Hamilton has pledged to wear a rainbow helmet in Saudi Arabia and in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. The Mercedes driver wore the helmet for the first time in the previous race in Qatar, to protest against 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.

Jeddah, SAUDI ARABIA: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP speak at the drivers’ press conference during previews ahead of the Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 02 2021.
Hassan Ammar – Piscine/Getty Images
Todt recorded his remarks on CNBC on Tuesday, ahead of Hamilton’s comments. The executive defended Formula 1 against criticism in his interview, which aired on Friday.
“By saying this, by going to some countries where there are doubts about the way things are going, we give the opportunity for people to speak, and I think we give more visibility to the countries,” said Todt. “There is complete freedom for whoever wants to speak, who wants to protest – they can do it. “

Other drivers have championed 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 of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Regarding Saudi Arabia in particular, Todt said a lot of progress has been made in recent years.

“Until 2018 Saudi Arabia couldn’t host a single international event because women were prohibited from driving, now women can drive, so changes are happening, but we shouldn’t get involved in any political issues, ”he said.

BAHRAIN – MARCH 28: FIA President Jean Todt watches from the grid during the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on March 28, 2021 in Bahrain.

Dan Istitène – Formula 1 / Formula 1 via Getty Images

As the only black driver in F1 history, Hamilton has also been a strong advocate for racial equality. Since the murder of George Floyd and the worldwide protest movement that followed last year, a number of drivers have joined the British runner in kneeling before the races to call attention to racial injustice.

Todt told CNBC’s Geoff Cutmore that he respects and admires Hamilton’s leadership on issues of diversity and inclusion, which he called a “global problem that must be resolved.”

“Before each Grand Prix start, we give the drivers room to show their attention to the problem, but of course there is still a lot to do,” he added.

Todt’s reluctance to take action on human rights and freedom of expression issues stands in stark contrast to the approach of Steve Simon, president and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association.

Simon announced this week that the WTA will suspend all tournaments in China due to the Chinese government’s treatment of tennis player Peng Shuai, after she brought a sexual assault allegation against a senior government official. He accused Beijing of censoring Peng and failing to prove that she was “free and able to speak without interference or intimidation.”

“None of this is, and cannot be, acceptable. If powerful people can suppress women’s voices and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the foundation on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer a huge setback, ”Simon said in a press release Thursday.


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