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F1’s Lewis Hamilton raises human rights issues amid appeals from Bahrain activists

November 26, 2020 at 3:33 pm

Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton at Intercity Istanbul Park on 15 November 2020 [Clive Mason/Getty Images]

Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has been praised for speaking out on human rights abuses in F1 hosting countries following calls by three Bahraini political prisoners to highlight the issue.

Following his seventh world championship in Turkey earlier this month, equalling F1 legend Michael Schumacher’s world titles, Hamilton said that his future in the sport rests on it cleaning up its act, stating: “I would love to stay, but we realise we have got to face, and not ignore, the human-rights issues in the countries that we go to — not just 20 or 30 years from now, but now. I want to help Mercedes and F1 on that journey.”

The former McLaren driver’s current two-year contract with Mercedes is to expire at the end of next month possibly leaving him out of contract at the end of the season, although negotiations are reportedly ongoing on a renewal.

Hamilton’s record-equalling title parade is to take place in Bahrain on Sunday with two races to be staged on consecutive weekends in the Gulf Kingdom, which has hosted the prestigious event since F1 visited Bahrain in 2004, the first time the sport was held in the Middle East.

READ: Bahrain’s industry minister meets Israeli delegation

The race was cancelled in 2011 following a series of pro-democracy protests amid the region’s so-called Arab Spring. Yet the uprisings were severely crushed with the assistance of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, whose troops form the core of the Gulf’s coalition force called the Peninsula Shield.

Bahrain continues to be described as having an “abysmal” human rights record in addition to being accused of “sportswashing” its abuses. Yesterday it emerged that 16 organisations wrote jointly to F1 chairman Chase Carey challenging F1’s role in “sportswashing the Bahraini Government’s human rights abuses”.

The Guardian also reported that three current and former Bahraini political prisoners praised Hamilton for his commitment to pursuing equality, anti-racism and human rights and appealed to him to intercede on their behalf by highlighting their plight.

“To hear the world champion echo our calls is deeply moving,” writes one imprisoned human rights protester. Another says Hamilton’s stance “could make all the difference”.

Hamilton who is outspoken on the Black Lives Matter movement has yet to respond to the letters but said earlier this season that “We go to all these countries. Whilst it’s a great event, we don’t leave a long-lasting positive effect on those places. The question is can we? Can we be a part of bringing attention to certain issues and pushing for change.”

As part of its own alleged sportswashing campaign, Saudi Arabia and F1 recently announced a deal to host the race in the kingdom for the next ten years, starting next year. An F1 spokesperson said: “We have always been clear with all race promoters and Governments with which we deal worldwide that we take violence, abuse of human rights and repression very seriously.”

READ: Rights groups criticise Saudi hosting debut F1 Grand Prix in 2021