Rights groups call on F1 to disclose human rights articles in F1 contracts amid concerns over ‘sportswashing’ in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

F1 told to “meet victims” and use “all available leverage” to demand the release of political prisoners in Bahrain

  • Ahead of the commencement of the 2023 Formula One (F1) season which begins this weekend in Bahrain, a coalition of 21 rights groups and Trade Unions have written to Stefano Domenicali, the CEO of F1 to call for urgent disclosure of human rights articles in F1 contracts. 
  • 21 NGOs including the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Human Rights Watch are seeking clarification after the F1 CEO revealed in a recent interview that F1 contracts contain articles permitting the withdrawal of the sport from host countries if F1 was not satisfied “with the way human rights issues have developed in a country”. Rights groups are now calling on Mr Domencali to disclose these articles. 
  • The letter details the dire human rights context in which this race will be taking place and condemns “Bahraini law that criminalises peaceful protest and severely curtails freedom of speech, eliminating any space for those who wish to exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, expression and opinion, including by peacefully opposing F1’s race in the country”. 
  • Rights groups cite the example of Lewis Hamilton, as well as Pope Francis, as public figures who have used their platform to highlight ongoing human rights issues in Bahrain, such as the ongoing detention of political prisoners and use of the death penalty, and have called on F1 to follow their examples. 
  • In their letter, NGOs raised concerns over ongoing repression in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, citing mass executions in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain’s ongoing imprisonment of political leaders – such as opposition leader Hassan Mushaima and long-term hunger-striking human rights defender and academic, Dr Abdulajlil AlSingace, as well as those at imminent risk of execution on death row, including Mohammed Ramadhan, Husain Moosa. The letter demands F1 to “use all available leverage” to pressure Bahrain for their immediate release. 
  • The rights groups further requested F1 “meet with victims” such as former female political prisoners and torture survivors Najah Yusuf and Hajer Mansoor, mother of arbitrarily imprisoned Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, as well as to issue a public statement “calling on F1 host countries to respect human rights to freedom of expression and assembly, to ensure nobody is subjected to reprisals during the races”.
  • These calls come as UK lawmakers also express concerns over F1’s role in sportswashing abuse in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and demand that F1 commission an independent inquiry into the implications of its races in rights violations.
  • Key quotes:
    • We call upon you in the strongest of terms to end your role in sportswashing authoritarian Gulf regimes’ horrendous abuses, once and for all […]”
    • We are writing […] to raise our serious concerns over F1’s ongoing role in ‘sportswashing’ amidst a deterioration in Bahrain’s human rights situation.
    • Gulf dictatorships continue to oversee some of the most repressive and violent regimes on the planet while retaining their generous F1 contracts. It therefore appears that F1’s threshold for a country to be considered as ‘not going in the right direction’, thus causing the articles referenced to be invoked, is unreasonable to such a level that it is rendered meaningless.
    • Since your 2022 races, human rights in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been increasingly trampled upon by these autocracies. If you are serious about putting human rights ‘at the centre’ of your agenda, such egregious violations must not go unchallenged by F1.
    • It is abundantly clear that human rights in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia could not be further from ‘going in the right direction’. F1’s ongoing operations in these states, without efforts to address human rights concerns, will serve only to facilitate sportswashing of abuses.”

Comments

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), commented: The pressure is mounting on Formula One management to be transparent on its relationship with abusive authoritarian regimes. They must now respond to calls from expert human rights organisations around the world and reveal the human rights articles in their contracts which would allow them to withdraw hosting privileges from a country in light of continued harrowing human rights violations of international law by those states.” 

Husain Abdulla, Executive Director of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), commented: “If Formula One insists on refusing to acknowledge both the abuses committed by their business partners, and the pleas coming directly from victims themselves, how can they claim their human rights policy is worth the paper it’s written on? Our efforts compelled them to adopt a human rights policy and they now have a duty to implement it”.

Andrea Florence, Director of Sport & Rights Alliance, commented: “The growing trend of ‘sportswashing’ often goes hand in hand with repressing athletes’ rights to protest. Formula 1 and Federation Internationale d’Automobile (FIA) should use all available leverage to hold Bahrain accountable to its human rights violations – and they can start by protecting the voices of athletes who make their sport possible.” 

Find the full letter to F1 here.

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