Bahrain GP: F1 drivers urged to speak up against human rights violations in Bahrain

Before the Bahrain Grand Prix, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) wrote to Hamilton and other Formula One drivers.

Lewis Hamilton in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)
By Nilavro Ghosh | Mar 2, 2023 | 3 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

Prior to the first race of the upcoming racing season in Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton and his fellow Formula One competitors have been urged by human rights organisations to speak out against violations of human rights and to stand in solidarity with a Bahrain-based rights activist. Before the Bahrain Grand Prix, the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) wrote to Hamilton and other Formula One drivers asking for their assistance in spreading the word about prominent human rights advocate Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was given a life sentence after taking part in Bahraini anti-government protests in 2011.

“This is of the utmost importance now that the FIA wants to take power over how drivers can express themselves through the amendments made to FIA’s International Sporting Code for 2023, threatening to sanction all drivers who do not maintain a neutral stance on personal, political or religious matters,” ECDHR said in a statement on Wednesday.

The letter makes reference to an altercation that recently took place between the motorsport racing federation and its drivers after it revised its rules to forbid “political, religious, or personal” remarks from being made without prior approval. Drivers immediately criticised the FIA, with Hamilton promising to keep talking about the issues that are important to him.

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“I think we’ve come a long way. I think we’ve seen great progress, but there’s more to do and we are still going to places where there are still issues and I know there is work being done in those places, too, and these things can take time,” he said. “I’m going to continue to be me and continue to fight for things that I am passionate about. I wouldn’t let anybody stop me from doing that.”

F1 CEO says drivers’ freedom of speech won’t be infringed upon

The chief executive of Formula One, Stefano Domenicali, has declared that the sport will never gag anyone in response to a preseason dispute between drivers and the governing FIA over “political” statements and free speech. The Italian, who represents Liberty Media, a company with commercial rights in the United States, told the Guardian newspaper that he also anticipated clarification from the sport’s governing body in Paris. A clause requiring prior written consent for drivers to make or display “political, religious, and personal statements or comments” at races was added by the FIA to its updated International Sporting Code last December.

The move has been condemned by rights groups and criticised by drivers, who have spoken of their disappointment and uncertainty. “F1 will never put a gag on anyone,” said Domenicali. “Everyone wants to talk so to have the platform to say what they want in the right way the better it is. We have a huge opportunity because of the position of our sport which is more and more global, multicultural and multi-valued.”

“We are talking about 20 drivers, 10 teams and many sponsors, they have different ideas, different views. I cannot say one is right, one is wrong but it is right, if needed, to give them a platform to discuss their opinions in an open way. We will not change that approach as a sport. That should be the line of our sport, to give everyone the chance to speak in the right way, not with aggressive tones or to offend but with respect.”