Formula 1 announced earlier this month that it would be adding Saudi Arabia to the calendar from 2021. The Arab country hopes to attract new tourists from across the globe as it becomes the 33rd independent state to host an F1 race.
F1’s CEO Chase Carey said he was “excited to welcome Saudi Arabia” to the sport next year. Saudi Arabia’s sport minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal also pointed out that this race “perfectly reflects the transformational journey the country is on”.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have been quick to condemn F1’s decision, with Amnesty’s UK head of campaigns saying: “We would urge all F1 drivers, owners and teams to consider speaking out about the human rights situation in the country”.
Saudi Arabia has recently seen itself hosting multiple sporting events such as Formula E, the Dakar Rally and the Spanish Super Cup among others. This has led many to accuse the government of sportswashing as a means to improve their reputation amid reports of human rights violations.
The announcement came only a day after Saudi authorities were asked by UN experts to release women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. Al-Hathloul was arrested in May 2018 and has now been on a hunger strike since 26 October 2020.
Earlier this year, F1 launched its “we race as one” initiative to tackle global inequality which saw the organisation pledge to fight “for inclusion and equality”.
The sports’ fans have expressed their rage in the wake of the announcement, underlining what they believe to be hypocrisy at the heart of F1. Aramco, a Saudi oil company, had also seen criticism when it partnered up with F1 in March due to it’s carbon footprint.
Russia, Turkey, China and the UAE, respectively ranked 114th, 122nd, 126th, and 128th out of 164 on the 2019 Human Freedom Index, have also hosted races over recent years.