FIA emulates FIFA in clampdown on F1 drivers’ political gestures

News Focus

Posted on

| Written by

For decades, athletes have stepped out in support of or opposition to various social, religious and political issues. Formula 1 drivers joined them in recent years, becoming increasingly outspoken on human rights matters.

Now the sport’s governing body, the FIA, has reacted. As RaceFans revealed yesterday, drivers and other participants in FIA events have been told that from next year they may not make “political statements” without the governing body’s permission.

The clampdown has come about through a revision to the International Sporting Code. It is broadly worded, stating that prohibited actions now include “the general making and display of political, religious and personal statements or comments notably in violation of the general principle of neutrality promoted by the FIA under its Statutes unless previously approved in writing by the FIA for International Competitions, or by the relevant ASN for National Competitions within their jurisdiction.”

An FIA spokesperson explained the change when contacted by RaceFans. “The ISC has been updated in alignment with the political neutrality of sport as a universal fundamental ethical principle of the Olympic Movement, enshrined in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Code of Ethics, together with the principle of the universality set out in Article 1.2,” they noted.

As the spokesperson noted, the FIA’s Statutes already held that: “The FIA shall promote the protection of human rights and human dignity, and refrain from manifesting discrimination on account of race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, philosophical or political opinion, family situation or disability in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect.”

The same statute also states: “The FIA will focus on underrepresented groups in order to achieve a more balanced representation of gender and race and to create a more diverse and inclusive culture.”

The new rule gives the FIA considerable power over how drivers can express themselves. It remains to be seen how broadly this rule may be interpreted, and which activities previously accepted by the FIA may now be considered a breach of regulations.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Sport has long been used as a platform for protest by athletes who wanted to have their say on current affairs which affected them personally, or to act as allies for others. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, American sprinter Tommie Smith and his countryman John Carlos took to the podium after finishing first and third in the 200-metre race. During the nation anthem, both athletes raised their hands and performed the ‘Black Power’ salute in protest at the treatment of black Americans and other minorities in the United States. They were expelled from the games soon after.

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, Hungaroring, 2021
Vettel stood up for LGBTQ+ rights
That did not discourage others from imitating them. In baseball, Toronto Blues player Carlos Delgado stayed in the dug-out as “God Bless America” rang out around the stadium in 2004, in protest to the wars at the time taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2016, American footballer Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem before an NFL match. Asked why, Kaepernick said he could not show pride in the flag when the oppression of black people was still prevalent in America. Kaepernick inspired a new generation of protesters beyond the NFL which continues to this day. The Australian men’s cricket team took the knee for the first time on home soil earlier this month.

More recently the Iranian players performed a “silent protest” as their national anthem blasted around them during the opening match of the FIFA World Cup in protest over the human rights abuses taking place in their home country. The silence followed protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police. Knowing their families could pay a heavy price, the players locked arms and bowed their heads as an Iranian woman was shown crying in the crowd.

But at times expressions of solidarity have prompted reactions from officials. Ahead of Germany’s Euro 2020 match against Hungary, the Munich City Council planned to illuminate the football stadium in the rainbow flag colours showing support for LGBTQ+ pride. However the football body UEFA blocked the move, which came as Hungary’s government pushed legislation discriminating against gay people.

Sebastian Vettel criticised UEFA’s reaction. “I think to excuse it as a political message I think is the wrong path,” he said. “It’s definitely not harming anybody and I think it’s a great message that they would have loved to send out and were not allowed.”

“I think some institutions need to rethink their approach on banning these type of messages,” concluded Vettel.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

He is one of several drivers who have become increasingly outspoken on a range of social issues in recent years. This was prompted in parts by the events of 2020 and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

F1 dropped is ‘We Race As One’ campaign after 2021
The death George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin, who was filmed kneeling on the neck of the unarmed black man for over nine minutes, provoked worldwide outrage. Chauvin was eventually found guilty on three charges. In the interim drivers including Lewis Hamilton were moved to speak out against racial discrimination and in support of diversity. He said the Floyd case brought up “so much suppressed emotion” in him.

Hamilton became heavily involved in changes to Formula 1’s pre-race routine including the introduction of the ‘We Race As One’ observance, which ended at the beginning of this year, during which drivers had the opportunity to take the knee. In 2020 Mercedes changed the livery of its car to black with the words “end racism” printed on the side and their drivers wore black overalls.

Hamilton took the protest further, regularly wearing T-shirts which bore political messages. On one occasion, when Hamilton sported a T-shirt on the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix podium which read “arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor”, the FIA was moved to act, preventing the post-race trophy ceremony from being used as a platform the same way in future.

The drivers have also found their voices in relation to some venues F1 has chose to race at. The year before football took its World Cup to Qatar, F1 held its first race there, and will return on a long-term basis from next season.

Several drivers indicated their views on Qatar’s strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws, where same-sex relations are punishable by imprisonment. For last year’s race Hamilton added the Progress Pride flag to his helmet, saying he hoped it “sparks positive conversation and change.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

His concern wasn’t limited to Qatar. Similar laws are in place in Saudi Arabia, which also joined the F1 calendar last year. Hamilton described the oppression as “terrifying.”

“These places need scrutiny,” he added. “It needs the media to speak about these things. Equal rights is a serious issue.”

The same issue was widely discussed during the Qatar World Cup. The England and Wales teams joined those of other European countries by planning to wear a ‘OneLove’ armband in protest against discrimination in the country. FIFA took a dim view of this and warned them they would face a sporting sanction if they did, forcing the teams to back down.

The FIA’s announcement yesterday looks very much like an attempt to do something similar. But with the 2023 F1 calendar featuring stops in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries whose human rights records have faced criticism, the controversy is unlikely to fade away.

News Focus

Browse all News Focus articles

Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

41 comments on “FIA emulates FIFA in clampdown on F1 drivers’ political gestures”

  1. Like FIFA, the FIA doesn’t want to be embarrassed by its own dubious decisions going under the microscope. This is not about neutrality, but about silencing criticism of the governing body and its chosen partners.

    1. Those partners are more often than not members of the FIA, right down to the F1 stewards room where the rules mandate that the host nation’s motorsport club appoints one of the stewards.

      The FIA wants to be a global player representing motoring and motorsport clubs from around the world. This is what gives it leverage in its discussions with, for example, the United Nations, the European Union and manufacturers of cars. This also means it has members from across the world, and it has to be sensitive to local customs and political power. It’ll be much harder for the FIA to promote its core business if it is seen as promoting a particular political ideology.

  2. It’s really sad that so many people want these things to invade their sporting activities and leisure time.

    These issues absolutely do need to be brought to attention and discussed, but there is a much more suitable time and place.
    That’s all the FIA is asking for – that the sporting arena be respected for the sport.

    1. This is about marketing and not “sport”.

      1. Yeah, I totally agree – however the FIA isn’t in the business of political marketing and pressuring countries to follow their ideals.
        The run an international motoring association and some car racing series….

    2. It’s sad there isn’t more of this in sport. I thought a lot of the protests and statements were weak. I would like to see some of the drivers not showing up to some of these races like in the dictatorships F1 seems so fond of now. If the drivers stood together maybe we wouldn’t have to be insulted with someone like Putin on the podium. That one of “these things” I don’t want to see in F1.

      1. I would like to see some of the drivers not showing up

        So would I.

    3. What the FIA is asking is that sportswashing remain as massively profitable as it is now. The “time and place” gambit is always trotted out by the right wing after mass shootings to silence and misdirect calls for gun control. The time to call out racism, homophobia, transphobia, human rights violations, and rising global fascism is when you see them, not when somebody else decides it’s your turn to talk. Calling for anything else is cowardly and complicit.

      1. Okay, lets replace the F1 GP’s with socio-political meetings then, shall we?
        Just get everyone around a big table and discuss the world’s problems, and then crown the F1 World Champion from that.

        The worlds needs action, not talk. Positive action doesn’t happen at a car racing event.

    4. They invade regardless of anyone’s feelings about it. That’s the nature of any sport that exists in multiple places, in multiple times and/or in multiple perspectives. Putting one’s head in the sand about that is not going to change this; it’s like wishing for the sun to rise in the north or for gravity to stop existing for 2 minutes while you put the kettle on.

      Unless you want all F1 races to occur at the same venue, under the same government (so no elections, deaths of monarchial leaders or other significant changes in personnel ever), pursuing exactly the same ideology (so no changes in opinion on anything ever)?

      1. I’m not entirely convinced you understand any of this….
        There’s politics, and then there’s politics…..

        Unless you want all F1 races to occur at the same venue, under the same government (so no elections, deaths of monarchial leaders or other significant changes in personnel ever), pursuing exactly the same ideology (so no changes in opinion on anything ever)?

        If we are going to play the ‘everything is politics’ game, then so could this example be politically charged, by deliberately excluding everyone and everything that isn’t that one location/government.

        Which is exactly why most people can separate politics from… you know… politics.

  3. I wonder what FIFA and FIA might have in common … could it be the abundant arabian money men buying athletes’ silence from corrupt dignitaries, one sport at a time?

    1. @proesterchen In terms of the overall impact they had on the world, European colonialism had much more of an effect than anything that is happening in the Gulf right now.

      The actions of British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian monarchs and businesses of old lead to slavery, murder, mass subjugation of masses of people and the propagation of racist ideals across the European continent. The fact that European powers want to ignore this fact, and the fact they are so uncomfortable when called out on it, shows they still have no idea how much pain and suffering they have caused.

      People in glass houses and all that…

  4. Thank you FIA, finally we won’t have other peoples’ beliefs and opinions forced down our throats while trying to enjoy a sporting event. If you want to express your political views, go hold a parade or something or if that is too much effort do an instagram post to make yourself feel good, just don’t bother me with it.

    1. This is not about keeping your precious mind clean.

      This is about not juxtaposing the well-paid political propaganda with inconvenient moments of reality.

    2. Are Moi and S Russian bots? Theses guys seem to just write the same messages in the support of fascism over and over.

      1. If you don’t believe racism, homophobia, bigotry and fascism are evil and intolerable, the belief that they are *should* be shoved down your throat.

        1. Here we go again.
          Not wanting to be faced with specific messages for a couple of hours in specific circumstances obviously directly equates with rejecting the actual issues behind those messages entirely. Of course….

          I’m more than happy to discuss all of these subjects with both of you if you like, but I can guarantee you it won’t be while I’m watching car racing.

      2. Ah yes, not toeing the line as defined by you equates to fascism.
        Please educate yourself a bit more before posting such nonsense. And no, reading facebook posts does not count as an education.

        As for Proesterchen: I simply fail to see why specific political messaging – regardless of whther or not I agree with it – should be forced upon me in circumstances that have nothing to do with it. What’s next, political messaging on milk cartons?

        1. This is what I meant. This seems to always be the bot response. “Get educated, I’m a rebel, and only I can know what toeing the line is”. Kind of disturbing. You’re toeing a line too. Just the wrong one.

      3. Their latest iterations are certainly very concerned with the image of one fascist country currently in the middle of an unsuccessful land invasion of a neighbouring nation.

    3. Thank you FIA, finally we won’t have other peoples’ beliefs and opinions forced down our throats while trying to enjoy a sporting event

      So, you like “cancel culture” when it stops people pointing out the morally objectionable behaviour of various people/nations?

      1. petebaldwin (@)
        21st December 2022, 20:14

        That’s the standard right-wing way though isn’t it? They’ll scream about free speech being sacred when they want to defend someone being racist but when something is said that they don’t agree with, they want it shut down immediately.

        1. That’s what free speech is though, isn’t it.
          It works both ways. You know… freely.

          1. Speech is not free, it comes with responsibilities.

          2. That is true.
            Rights and responsibilities, also consequences and liability.

            Nevertheless, speech is as free as it was before this came about.

          3. It works both ways. You know… freely.

            Apparently not. Under this ruling, anyone associated with F1 is not allowed to call out the discriminatory behaviour of anyone, despite the directly opposite stated (verbal) pronouncement.

            As the spokesperson noted, the FIA’s Statutes already held that: “The FIA shall promote the protection of human rights and human dignity, and refrain from manifesting discrimination on account of race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, philosophical or political opinion, family situation or disability in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect.”

            Talk about piling up the bovine output.

          4. Apparently not. Under this ruling, anyone associated with F1 is not allowed to call out the discriminatory behaviour of anyone, despite the directly opposite stated (verbal) pronouncement.

            They certainly are – outside of their official FIA/F1 duties.

            I’m not sure if people are arguing against this on principle, or if they just plain and simple don’t understand it.

          5. S, perhaps you should try reading the regulations in question before assuming they don’t affect off-duty expression of opinion. There’s no “off-duty” clause in there – I’ve checked, and apparently quite a few other people on this site have checked. This is a severe restriction on freedom of expression, that is so severe that it is likely to cause the FIA a lot of problems (not just with drivers and competitors).

          6. There’s no “off-duty” clause in there

            There doesn’t need to be.
            The FIA can’t restrict anyone drivers right to free speech under their own name and in their own time. They know that, which is why they aren’t trying to.
            This is about representation of the FIA’s business and brands – that’s all. No business wants their employees or contractors to ruin that business or their business relationships, and so impose certain restrictions on how those people represent them in public.
            I’m sure you’ve worked for an employer at some point in your life and have been encouraged (one way or another, possibly contractually if not via unwritten expectation) not to spread messages that could harm the company or its public image.
            Did you feel oppressed?
            Or did you accept it as a condition of your employment? Did you feel that you could still speak your mind in private even if it opposed the company’s views? I’ll bet you did.

            If F1 drivers are intent on ruining the FIA’s image and brand by using F1’s marketing reach, branding or other means to criticise their proverbial golden goose, then there absolutely should be punishment for that behaviour. They are contractually obliged to abide by the ISC, and willingly agree to do so as a condition of their acceptance into the FIA’s organisation and competitive series.

            I predict approximately 0 significant ramifications of this. If someone loses their super licence as a result of badmouthing their (voluntary and privileged) ticket to the good life, then so be it.
            There are right ways to go about things and there are wrong ways – every choice has consequences.
            F1 drivers are no different to the rest of us.

    4. You will. They’ll just be more likely to be false.

  5. If you take money from governments to host Grands Prix, allow politicians to present trophies, and have major sponsorship from state-owned companies, then you should expect criticism. If you don’t want to mix politics and sport, fine, but then don’t have Putin presenting trophies and hanging out in the room with the drivers, don’t have governments paying massive hosting fees to promote their country, and don’t have the likes of Saudi Aramco as major sponsors.

    1. A fantastic point. These nations pay huge sums which is willingly taken, so as to present themselves as a modern global nation. Meanwhile they’re anything but and operating truly horrific policies towards fellow humans.

      To then clamp down on people’s free speech on said topics and basically just “shut the f up and drive” is really quite a fascist move.

      We shouldn’t be racing in some countries given how backwards and dictatorial they are, but if drivers or others are prevented form even airing their own views then it’s a dark dark road to take.

      To those saying they’re happy and don’t want to see politics pushed down their throat, grow up. We live in a political world and you can’t just turn that off. Everything is interconnected whether you like it or not and sport as a globally viewed form of entertainment can often be one of the best ways to help highlight and inform about injustices. Every little helps whether you think it’s pointless or distracting or not.

      1. Raising awareness is always positive no matter the message, it opens discussion.
        Obviously, slogans are always one sided hooks so will feel stingy but is better than silence or propaganda.
        I agree that those instutions are hypocrites, however very few business will not twist reality their way for profit.
        Hence why it is of good war for athletes to take a stance.
        We still see or remember black panthers’ raised gloved fists, whatever you may think of that movement still opened eyes to many, asked questions.
        This is also akin to disobedience, being a rebel. That is powerful where companies do want to sell you a pasteurised image, everyone is beautiful, everyone is kind.
        So the logic behind those bans is economically logical but morally obtuse if not despicable.
        Athletes can also be hypocrites but again the message prevails.

        If we extrapolate, think of any professional showing a political or societal cause. Would you not use their service or goods. Would you start a conversation or maybe research the issue or movement or simply keep it business as usual and carry on.
        I d bet most would chose the latter.

        Or they could think of positive control.
        Like a lot of big players do with funding charities,but further, create a platform where the sport can air its views and even fund some of the causes.

      2. It’s not just places that, in my view, we shouldn’t be racing. If the British Grand Prix had big government subsidies and big “Visit Great Britain” logos everywhere, and/or some senior minster of the day presenting trophies, then I would understand if there was a driver who wanted to express some opposition to what’s happening in the Chagos Islands or whatever, even if I didn’t agree with them. It goes both ways.

    2. @f1hornet Exactly. Shooting the messenger does not solve the sport-damaging behaviour.

  6. Political neutrality of sports.

  7. Oy…so many words can be spilled, but in the end it’s rather disheartening that the cliché of ‘money talks’ seems to sum up so many things about the world.

  8. Since the dawn of times, sports have been used to whitewash ugly political systems.

    Qatar paid a crazy fortune to host the World Cup. And clearly, part of the money went to FIFA, to ensure the host country wasn’t humiliated in global TV.

    Same is true of F1. Qatar and Saudi Arabia host GPs to promote their countries. It stands to reason they can’t allow drivers to confront them.

    Note I’m not saying these countries are right, only that their behavior makes sense, and forces FIFA and FIA to play nice to them.

    1. For years the Austin GP paid huge amount of money to get the USA GP, and using it to spread the “Greatest nation under god, God bless America” message around the world. As a reward the US now gets even two more GPS, with the same message. Must be very frustrating to accept this year after year if you are an F1 fan living in a country that is at the receiving end of USA sanctions, allegations of corruption, etc. Why would Chinese, Quatari, Saudi Arabian F1 fans have that pushed on them? Why can we have immoral US celebreties handing out trophies, and not allow the same to leading religious leaders in other countries?

      Yes, I am exaggerating, but what is good or bad politics depends very much on where and how you grow up.

      The sports mention IOC, FIFA are worldwide sports, trying to keep as many countries participating as possible. Should FIA strive for the same, or would we be OK crowing an F1 worldchampion like in American Football, or Baseball, only teams and events in one country?

Comments are closed.