Human rights organisation Amnesty International has warned of “sportswashing” should plans for a Formula 1 race in Saudi Arabia come to fruition.
A street race in Jeddah is on the provisional 2021 schedule that was shown to team bosses at a meeting of the F1 Commission on Monday.
Longer term, there are plans to hold the race at the Al-Qiddiya entertainment complex that is being constructed in Riyadh.
F1 has already forged close links via the country through Saudi petrochemical giant Aramco, one of its main commercial partners. The company has also featured as the title sponsor of races, including this year’s Hungarian and Spanish GPs.
Saudi Arabia has already hosted international motor racing events, with Formula E races first held on the streets of Riyadh in December 2018.
Amnesty has long campaigned against human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and highlighted the country’s links to sport.
Earlier this year it cautioned against an ultimately failed takeover of Newcastle United FC by Saudi interests via the country’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, which also owns Aramco.
PIF has been spending heavily internationally this year, and has actively targeted companies that have been hit by the Covid-19 crisis.
It has declared new interests in a range of major names, including Uber, BP, Boeing, Citigroup, Facebook, Marriott, Disney, Cisco, Bank of America, Shell, Total, Qualcomm, IBM and Starbucks. It also announced a $418m stake in Live Nation, a sister company to F1.
This week’s news of a potential F1 race in the country generated a quick response from the Amnesty organisation.
“Formula 1 should realise that a Saudi Grand Prix in 2021 would be part of ongoing efforts to sportswash the country’s abysmal human rights record,” said Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns.
“The failed attempt to buy Newcastle United obviously hasn’t deterred the Saudi authorities, who apparently still see elite-level sport as a means of rebranding their severely tarnished reputation.
“Despite the fanfare over Saudi women finally being allowed to drive a car without being arrested, the authorities have recently locked up and tortured several leading women’s rights activists – including Loujain al-Hathloul and Nassima al-Sada.
“If a Saudi Grand Prix goes ahead, at the very least F1 should insist that all contracts contain stringent labour standards across all supply chains, and that all race events are open to everyone without discrimination.
Jakens asked for support from the sport’s stakeholders: “In the lead-up to a race in Jeddah, we would urge all F1 drivers, owners and teams to consider speaking out about the human rights situation in the country, including by expressing solidarity with jailed human rights defenders.”
When asked about Amnesty’s views F1 would not comment specifically on Saudi Arabia, noting that the event has not been officially announced.
However a spokesperson stressed that the organisation maintains a focus on human rights issues, telling Autosport: “For decades F1 has worked hard to be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits.
“Sports like F1 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 very seriously and have made our position on human rights and other issues clear to all our partners and host countries who commit to respect these rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered.”