Why Saudi Arabia is not put off by its F1 critics

OPINION: Concerns over human rights in Saudi Arabia refuse to let up, but the organisers of its Formula 1 race are determined to continue hosting grands prix and take encouragement from benefits found at home

As Jeddah pulled off its third grand prix in just 16 months last weekend, it indeed faced further scrutiny about whether or not it was right of F1 to be hosting a race there.

On the eve of the event taking place, human rights group Reprieve issued a strongly worded statement regarding the situation inside Saudi Arabia.

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve, said: “For all the talk of ‘positive values’ and ‘accelerating change,’ F1 has never seriously engaged with human rights and the way the sport is used to whitewash abuses by some of the world’s most repressive regimes.”

She added: “There have been at least 13 executions in Saudi Arabia in the last two weeks, including Hussein Abo al-Kheir, a Jordanian father of eight whose case had been raised by UN experts and UK MPs.

“Carrying out these executions on the eve of the Jeddah Grand Prix is a brazen display of impunity by the Saudi authorities, confident that the sport and its commercial partners will stay silent, and that the pageantry of F1 will distract from the bloodshed.”

Reprieve’s statement came after a coalition of 21 rights groups and Trade Unions wrote to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali ahead of the season calling for disclosure of human rights articles in F1’s contracts amid concerns about both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain using their races for sportswashing.

Concerns over human rights are not unique to Saudi Arabia, and the nation has long argued that having international attention on it through the hosting of events like F1 is as much a means of exposing it to outside scrutiny from the international community, as it is about self-promotion.

They have also never shied away from understanding that the kingdom needs to and wants to evolve, grow and become better.

The busy pre race grid

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

And things are slowly changing. That much was clear for anyone arriving at King Abdulaziz International Airport last week, as the promotional videos of the race showcased the story of a young girl who dreamed of – and achieved – finding herself on the F1 grid battling against her rivals.

For a country that only ended its ban on women drivers five years ago, this is a clear sign of how attitudes are fast evolving, even if some would like action to be running at a much faster pace.

Indeed, for the Saudi government, the main benefit it sees from having major events like F1 is not to get its name out around the world. Instead, it’s about helping deliver benefits to what is a quite young population.

Speaking at the F1 race last weekend, Saudi Arabia’s minister of sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal…

Read More: Why Saudi Arabia is not put off by its F1 critics 2023-03-24 15:19:34

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