F1 boss explains human rights stance
F1 boss Stefano Domenicali has explained the rationale behind the sport’s presence in countries with human rights concerns such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
Formula 1 has in recent years expanded its presence in the Middle East which has in turn earned it significant amounts of money through hosting fees.
The downside is that the sport has been criticised for putting profits ahead of ethics as it ventures to countries with human rights issues.
Speaking with The Guardian, Domenicali didn’t shy away from the awkward truth but also explained the rationale behind F1’s presence in those locations.
“I love taking these challenges on because from a personal perspective I can try to shape what I think is right,” he said.
“To open up the discussion on issues in these places. I take pride in it. I know it is easy to criticise me but I have no fear because with soft power, I believe in the right context, in the right way, I can achieve results.”
In such countries, the contract to host F1 includes specific clauses linked to improving human rights records, with Domenicali affirming the sport would step away should those not be met.
There is evidence to suggest this is more than just political rhetoric as the sport tore up the contract for the Russian Grand Prix when the Ukraine was invaded last year.
“Yes, absolutely we would walk and they know that,” Domenicali explained.
“They know very well it is in the contract. That’s why for them this is a spotlight that is beneficial to them to showcase that they want to change.”
The Italian reasons that the growth in F1 means that it doesn’t have to be in the Middle East to earn strong hosting fees.
Strong hosting fees
It’s estimated Bahrain pays $52 million for its place on the calendar, while Saudi Arabia and Qatar pay $55 million.
However, Domenicali argued there is sufficient demand globally that there is talk of a rotation system being introduced for some events.
“At this moment the sport is so strong that we have a lot of options to go elsewhere,” he stated of the sport in the Middle East.
“The idea, that it is money that leads, is not the only one. Because the money could be given by other countries who are ready to come, offering the same amount.
“Absolutely we could take it elsewhere because of the demand.”
F1 not sportswashing human rights abuses
Finances aside, Domenicali also believes by being present, with its contractual obligations and the media spotlight it brings to an event, positive change will follow.
F1 even employs auditors to ensure contractual obligations are being met.
There are those who disagree and claim F1 does little more than help sportswash the human rights abuses and organisations have claimed abuses in some countries have even worsened since the sport first started visiting them.
“I would say that’s not what we see, it’s a difference on vision and opinion,” Domenicali said of those countering his position.
“We feel totally confident of the reports we are receiving from independent auditors that there is not any signs that are confirming the kind of things that some groups are saying.
“We see a country that is very keen to be open in discussion but they have their own duty, their own independence in which we cannot be involved.
“Otherwise in every country we would be discussing the governing process of a country.”
“F1 is much stronger to do what we are doing because we are there, to be there to monitor what they are doing,” Domenicali added.
“I truly believe in keeping the pressure in the right way, because what I have learned is that if you want to be respected by people who think differently from you, the best way is not to shout at them.
“We don’t have to create barriers. Sport can be good in finding the point of connection, of contact, instead of the point of difference.”
The 2023 Formula 1 season begins this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix, before travelling to Saudi Arabia in two weeks’ time.