Ahead of the 2022 Formula 1 season-opener in Bahrain, local human rights activists have accused the sport of having a “clear double standard” in deciding which races should be permitted
Days before the Bahrain Grand Prix is set to lift the curtain on the 2022 campaign, Formula 1 organisers have been accused of ignoring human rights abuses taking place in the country.
A letter from the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) has urged teams, the Grand Prix Drivers Association (GPDA), the FIA and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali to not overlook the atrocities. The address suggested Formula 1 has “abandoned those who have been tortured and imprisoned” partly as a result of their criticism of the race being held in the country.
The new F1 season begins on Sunday when Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton will attempt to win at Sakhir for a fourth year running, not to mention a record-extending sixth title overall. The seven-time world champion recently received a letter from Bahraini prisoner Ali Alhajee, who thanked Hamilton for pressuring organisers to acknowledge the human rights issues in the countries where races are held.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, who serves as director of advocacy for BIRD, helped pen the letter along with 90 politicians and legislators following the recent decision to agree a fresh 15-year contract to stage the Bahrain Grand Prix through to 2036. Therein, he asked F1 to reconsider its agreement and accused the motorsport giant of sportswashing “continued institutionalised repression” in the nation.
“The FIA and F1 have taken a principled stance against the atrocities perpetrated by Russia,” commented Alwadaei in the letter, seen by Mirror Sport. “To not take the same stance on atrocities perpetrated by the Gulf states would send the message that our lives matter less.”
“I was tortured at the hands of Bahraini officials and members of my family are imprisoned, in retaliation for my human rights work, including urging F1 to adopt a human rights policy, which F1 has still failed to apply. My case is just one example among thousands of the repression within Bahrain and across the Gulf.”
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The Bahrain Grand Prix was first held in 2004, and locals have long protested against it being staged, with the 2011 race cancelled as a result of the uprising that took place between February and April of that year. Protesters against called for the cancellation of the race in 2012 and have frequently sought to remind the public of human rights abuses taking place in the country since then.
In his letter, Alwadaei also said that by signing a new long-term agreement to stage Grands Prix in Bahrain, it “directly contradicts your claim from last year that F1 takes ‘violence, abuse of human rights and repression very seriously.”
The decision was recently made to cancel this year’s Russian Grand Prix following the country’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, while Nikita Mazepin was removed as a Haas driver due to his father’s links with the state. Following the season-opener in Bahrain, F1 is set to shift its focus to its next race in Saudi Arabia (March 27), another country with a questionable human rights record.
BIRD backed the decision to remove Russia from the calendar, though it added there was “a clear double-standard being applied with countries in the Middle East,” referencing Saudi Arabia’s involvement in conflict against Yemen.
An F1 statement responded to BIRD’s address by saying: “For decades Formula One has worked hard be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits. Sports like Formula One 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.
“We take our responsibilities on rights very seriously and set high ethical standards for counterparties and those in our supply chain, which are enshrined in contracts, and we pay close attention to their adherence.”
That’s in addition to a statement published by the Kingdom of Bahrain, which said it had “the region’s most robust human rights protections in place.” It went on to dismiss it as “absurd” to single out Bahrain as a culprit on the F1 calendar, though the criticism had been made by a human rights body based in the country.
Alwadaei’s letter did appeal for F1 to reconsider staging races in the Middle East overall and called for an independent commission to help make decisions in regards to awarding race rights.