Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Losail International Circuit, 2021

F1 has a duty to raise awareness of human rights failings in countries it visits – Hamilton

2021 Qatar Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton says Formula 1 has a duty to raise awareness of human rights failings in countries it visits, ahead of its first races in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Speaking in an FIA press conference at the Losail International Circuit the seven-times world champion admitted he had been “ignorant” of such concerns in the past.

Human rights groups have accused Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries of ‘sportswashing’ by spending vast sums to bring global sports to their countries. Qatar has undertaken a huge construction project for next year’s FIFA football World Cup, but reports claim it has involved the deaths of over 6,500 migrant workers over the past decade as a result. The kafala system used in the region has been blamed for creating opportunities for workers to be exploited.

Hamilton has become increasingly outspoken on human rights matters since last year and wants more of his peers to do the same. “One person can only make us a certain amount of small difference but together, collectively, we can have a bigger impact,” he said. “So, do I wish that more sportsmen and women spoke out on these issues? Yes.”

However he said the subject is complex and requires sensitive handling. “The fact is that it’s education. It takes time to go out and and learn more about a region that’s foreign to us.

“We’re not from these areas, it’s incredibly complex on the ground in these places with religion. There’s so many complexities that it’s difficult to even understand them all.

“I think what’s important is that we still try to bring awareness to some of these problems. And whilst there are some changes that have been made over time, it’s never enough. More needs to be done.”

The seven-time world champion acknowledged F1 had not previously reacted to human rights concerns in the countries it visits. “As a sport we’ve been to, and I’ve been to, a lot of these countries and been ignorant, been unconscious of some of the problems that have been in some of the places.

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“So it’s down to whether you decide to educate yourself and hold the sport more accountable and make sure the sport is actually doing something about it when they go to those places. So that’s why I’ve tried to raise my voice.”

Hamilton said that that had been his motivation for speaking out. “But again, there’s far brighter people that are knowledgeable on these issues that are actually trying to fight them in the background. But I still think that we can still bring a spotlight to it and create that scrutiny and that pressure that could hopefully create change.”

Other drivers echoed Hamilton sentiment. Lando Norris said speaking out on human rights is “something we have to do as a community, as Formula 1.”

“It’s not something that as one person or just a small bunch of people. Of course, we can have a small effect and we can create change in places, but it’s not as simple as that.”

Sebastian Vettel, who called attention to discrimination against the LGBT community during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, said he believes human rights issues are “a responsibility that every big sport, big event has to face.”

“We love driving cars and we drive those cars everywhere around the world,” said Vettel. “There’s some places that we are very familiar with and others we’re not, some cultures we maybe agree with, others we don’t. So I think it’s more a question to Formula 1 as a whole and not just for me, for all of us.”

Hamilton’s future team mate George Russell said he believes the series will pick the right places to race at. “All of us drivers and everybody are aware of the human rights issues, but ultimately, for me personally, I trust in Formula 1 and the FIA to take us where they deem suitable and for the rest we’re just fully focussed on the driving.”

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Hamilton agreed somewhat with that sentiment “Ultimately, as drivers, it’s not our choice where we get to go and race. I do feel that we are aware there are issues in these places that we’re going to as there are around the world, but of course seems to be deemed as one of the worst in this part of the world.

However, he emphasised that visiting regions with human rights concerns had to come with increased scrutiny of those problems. “I do think as these sports go to these places, they are duty bound to raise awareness for these issues and these places need scrutiny. It needs the media to speak about these things. Equal rights is a serious issue.

“However I’m aware that in this place they are trying to make steps and it can’t change overnight. I heard there are things like there’s a new reform with the kafala system that was in place a couple of years ago, but still there’s a long way to go. I just feel that if we are coming to these places, we need to be raising the profile of the situation.”

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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35 comments on “F1 has a duty to raise awareness of human rights failings in countries it visits – Hamilton”

  1. Sure. Want to talked about drones killing civilians? Economic sanctions that suffocating a nation?

    1. Essentially every weekend they are talking about western world issues.
      The antiracist (kneeling cerimony) demonstration is criticizing a US problem, with manifestation in other countries.
      Diversity initiatives also talk about failures on western societies. It is possible to argue on the reasons why there werent enough women working as engineer/drivers in F1 teams. In some countries, there is no argument: they possibly are legally forbidden to do that.

      1. I have always understood that campaign to target individuals and not certain countries.

        When countries are singled out for human rights issues then they are almost always exclusively Arabic countries. Seeing that we just raced in three countries with horrendous human rights records – USA, Mexico and Brazil – I do wonder why that is.

        If we want to politicize Formula One as a vehicle to promote human rights, we should do so equally in every country Formula One races in. Only then would such a campaign appear honest and of worth.

        1. During the Hungarian Grand Prix, both Hamilton and Vettel specifically called out the government for its attack on LGBTQ+ people. Hamilton also specifically criticised the UK government for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. To claim that he almost exclusively singles out Arab countries is patently false.

          https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2021/07/29/lewis-hamilton-hungary-lgbt/

          https://www.planetf1.com/news/lewis-hamilton-uk-government/

        2. Ideally yes equal treatment for all countries & cultures on these issues.

          Except that there’s no comparison between the situations as the cultures, religion, ideologies are too distinct.

          There it is systemic & ingrained within the dominant culture. In occident not really.

      2. Exactly Gusmaia, the core stuff is mostly towards the western issues. And there have been more and more drivers who followed Lewis (and to an extent Seb) talking up about these things and about other human rights issues and teams have also joined in, so that is defenitely a change for the better.

        Is it enough? Well, as Hamilton mentions above, it can hardly ever be enough. But it certainly is a step forward. Since there really is no really effective way to change things quickly without messing up others even more, we just have to acknowledge that things take time and effort.

      3. The kneeling ritual is a US-media caused problem. Not a US problem.

        There’s no comparison between LGBT & women abuse in islamic countries which is actually systemic compared to the west, not even close, which is funny as if the activists were actually serious about it, you would see them up in arms first and foremost for those demographics in those countries.

        But most “activists” give islamic countries a pass, like they don’t really care so much about the issue where really is prevalent, but are only interested in the west. Like they’re after something else…

    2. Standard operational procedures for the U.S.,U.K., France, and Saudi Arabia who have created horrific conditions of death, and suffering for the people of both Libya and Yemen. Let’s not forget the use of cruise missiles, and depleted uranium in their arsenals of destruction.

  2. They could talk about SA’s horrible human rights by not going there. LH could also show some backbone and refuse to race their instead of prattling on about it. I love him, but at some point he needs to take a real stand instead of lip service.

    1. @darryn
      Don’t you think that in raising this awareness makes more impact because he’s there? Seeing it all happening? And also willing to go in discussion. If you don’t show up that is a hard statement and you’re showing not willing to meet people in the middle. I mean, rich countries like US and Europe are no saints either.

      1. If you don’t show up that is a hard statement and you’re showing not willing to meet people in the middle.

        @ruben I really like this comment. Personally I believe it to be COTD because it addresses a key issue not just in the sport we love but in our everyday lives. In the day to day interactions we have we need to approach them with empathy and the willingness to collaborate and meet people in the middle. We’ve had years of increasing polarization, fuelled by politicians, the media, and social media. Together we stand and divided we fall; I’d like to see F1 in the middle east and raise awareness of the human rights issues, instead of just one or the other. There are lots of good people, everywhere in the world, that choosing to exclude a nation for the decisions of a few is counter productive.

    2. he only cares his own people

  3. Profits are not compatible with ethics.
    We choose one or the other. Which will F1 choose?

    1. I think F1 has already made it’s choice. The answer is obvious for all to see.

    2. “We choose one or the other. Which will F1 choose?”

      They have chosen wisely.

    3. RocketTankski,
      I think F1 are trying to mix both by first securing the deals and then pretend that going to those countries is ethical because it helps bring change.

  4. I think Lewis is right of course. Then I am sure that several of his fellow drivers feel the same way. But F1 management and Liberty are moving in the opposite direction as far as putting money first. I suspect they will be quite glad when he retires.

    Many people on here are very keen to make comparisons with other countries currently on the calendar and European or North American countries that have long held races e.g. the UK, France the U.S. The point is though those in charge of F1 are choosing new places to visit each year. There is a choice to expand and a choice being made as to where Liberty expands the number of races, or replaces existing ones.

    People like Domenicali and Brawn can try to dress-up these new destinations like they are partly being introduced to encourage change and new attitudes in these countries like the middle eastern states. But really we only need half a brain to realise that these decisions are principally about huge sums of income and profit. Not about improving human rights or diversity. When management make those kind of statements they are taking us for fools.

    The drivers and anyone not tied in the management of F1 are quite right to highlight human rights issues in these countries and to try hold the sport more accountable as Lewis says.

  5. I have huge respect for the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and others who have spoken up against human rights failings. Unfortunately, however, I don’t believe Liberty Media care about where their money comes from, as long as they are getting it. They may be more intelligent businessmen than Bernie Ecclestone, but their incentives are exactly the same.

  6. Yep, I feel so much better about watching this race now.

    Thanks F1.

  7. Great statement and pointing to the hard parts of making a change in the world. As a Formula 1 so big and reaching so many people via TV and social media they should do more. Not only positing nice stuff via Instagram, but they also must be critical. They are in the position to do something about creating equality and banish discrimination. Sure its a huge task, but they are entitled to do so.

  8. Still waiting for that sequel to the South African GP 1982

  9. Maybe this site could do the same? I noted with great surprise that Racefans has also taken the Saudi pound with a promoted article earlier today that promoted ticket sales to the race.

    Funny how the promoted article disappeared after I read it. Almost like we don’t want to highlight that you’ve sold out.

    Just out of interest, how much money does it take to sell out on your morals when the Saudi money comes calling?

  10. I think if F1 insists on supporting countries with on going tragic human rights records such as Russia, China, the Saudis. They should definitely show a little moral courage and speak out about the countries short comings.
    If said country complains or makes threats, there are plenty of countries with better race tracks to take their place.

  11. F1 has no obligation to become involved in such external matters.
    I’d even go so far as to say that F1 has no right to involve itself in such things.

  12. Any nation’s particular issues that it faces are the reponsibility of the people and national government to work out.
    A travelling sports show’s job is to provide entertainment to the places it travels to.

  13. Every year it’s said, and every year it’s ignored. F1 is there for one reason, the circuits will pay them more than elsewhere.

  14. The level of ignorance shown by some posters on their lack of basic knowledge or understanding on how sport and politics are intertwined is mind blowing.

    1. As is the willingness of some people to subvert the intention of sport and instead use it as a political force.

      1. S Oh I agree, the politicians in countries such as China Russia and Arabia definitely use sport the legitimise their corrupt governments.

        1. *to legitimise

        2. No country’s politics is any more or less corrupt or legitimate just because they attract some sporting events.
          I personally don’t see Saudi Arabia, China or Russia any differently at all just because they bought an F1 race. I don’t think many people do, in reality. They certainly shouldn’t.
          I also don’t see any political link whatsoever – I see a motor racing event. National/international politics is completely separate.
          Anyone who thinks that ‘sportswashing’ is even a thing, or that “other” people fall for it… THAT is the real concern.

          What sport can do is shine a global media light on that part of the world. That has the potential to be more positive than not.
          It’s important to note that light isn’t being shone by the Hamiltons or Vettels of the world, it is the host country’s own voluntary involvement that has attracted that attention.

      2. The intention of F1 is money

  15. I hope he states the same when/if F1 goes back to Australia…

    1. Yes So do I.

  16. Here’s an idea, make a statement by boycotting it and sending ripples though motorsports fraternity and atleast make them think when your premiere driver refuses to race there, may be more join in then. Till then, thanks for the lip service.

Comments are closed.