Formula 1 urged not to turn blind eye to human rights abuses in Bahrain

Formula 1 urged not to turn blind eye to human rights abuses in Bahrain
A letter has been sent to F1's president by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, urging the sport not to ignore human rights abuses happening in the country ahead of the opening race of the motorsport's season.
3 min read
15 March, 2022
Bahrain will host the opening race of the F1 2022 season [Getty]

Formula 1 has come under fire for ignoring human rights abuses in Bahrain, just days before the start of the 2022 season.

The President of Formula 1, Stefano Domenicali, was sent a letter by the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) accusing the sporting body of failing to recognise abuses in the Gulf state.

Bahrain will host the opening Grand Prix race of the season this weekend. 

The letter, written by Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy for BIRD, criticises a recently signed contract that will see Bahrain host an F1 race for the next 15 years. 

The letter said F1 has "abandoned those who have been tortured and imprisoned".

"[It] directly contradicts your claim from last year that F1 takes 'violence, abuse of human rights and repression very seriously'," the letter read.

Bahrain has detained pro-democracy and other political activists since an uprising in 2011.

He further accused the Bahrain Grand Prix of contributing "to the abuse and suffering of individuals, and F1 has failed to adequately use its platform to put an end to abuses or secure redress for these victims".

Formula 1 rejected the claims, saying that the motorsport body takes a strong interest in human rights

"We take our responsibilities on rights very seriously and set high ethical standards for counter-parties and those in our supply chain," a spokesperson for the sport said. 

F1 recently made the decision to drop the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi from the 2022 calendar, in light of the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Alwadaei pointed to "a clear double-standard" when applied to countries in the Middle East, singling out Saudi Arabia for its role in the war in Yemen which has left thousands dead. 

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Saudi Arabia was controversially added to the calendar in 2021, and drivers will be returning at the end of March for the second race of the season. 

Alwadaei called on drivers to "publicly stand up for human rights in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, including on social media platforms".

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has already raised concerns about human rights issues in some of the countries where the sport will take place.

He was critical of the sport's decision to include Saudi Arabia in the 2021 calendar and wore a rainbow-coloured "pride" helmet during the race, in an effort to raise awareness of the country's poor record on LGBTQ+ rights issues. 

Hamilton has previously hinted at the abuses that occur in Bahrain. 

"I do think as a sport we need to do more... not just saying that we're going to do something (but) that we actually see some action taken," said the driver in 2020. 

Human rights organisation Amnesty International has condemned Bahrain for its repression of free speech, use of torture and ill-treatment, abuse of the judiciary, abuse of migrant workers, and the continued use of the death penalty. 

Responding to Alwadaei's letter, Bahrain claimed that they had "led human rights reform in the region".

Activists say that the country still holds political prisoners.

A spokesperson for Formula 1 said that the sport was in the position to be a positive force for change. 

"Sports like Formula 1 are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement," the statement read.