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Opinion

Ben Sulayem: We must stand united against online abuse

Online abuse has become a blight on our sport. The level of sustained toxicity has reached crisis point. It is time for all of us to unite – and to act.

Mohammed bin Sulayem, FIA President and Volunteers Azerbaijan GP

Mohammed bin Sulayem, FIA President and Volunteers Azerbaijan GP

FIA

Recently one of the FIA female stewards, Silvia Bellot, was the subject of death threats. It is utterly deplorable that a volunteer such as Silvia or any of our marshals and officials, who volunteer their time to allow us to go racing, is the subject of such hatred.

Indeed a number of FIA staff have also been targeted with harassment and hate posts over the past few years.

It is totally unacceptable that our volunteers, officials and employees are subjected to this extreme abuse. It has no place in our sport. It has a devastating effect on our mental health and that of our loved ones.

I will always stand up for my staff and volunteers. And let me be clear – without these people there would be no racing. We have to ask ourselves, who would want to pursue becoming a top official in this environment? The reality is obvious - if this continues it will destroy our sport.

As the referee, and as the President you of course expect people to disagree with the decisions you make. But you should expect that those opinions and comments are respectful. This is increasingly rare.

Only through a collaborative approach will we achieve a measure of success in combatting this scourge on our sport.

We have already initiated that process through the following actions:

  • We have entered into dialogue with social media platforms to play their part and we are beginning work with governments and fellow sports governing bodies to bring them together to make strong commitments for joint action.
  • We are commissioning research via the FIA University into digital hate and toxic commentary specific to sport. This will provide a platform for knowledge sharing, education and prevention.
  • We have partnered with Arwen.ai to utilise their AI software to detect and eradicate abusive content on our own channels.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem greets Mario Andretti

Mohammed Ben Sulayem greets Mario Andretti

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

In the coming months we will be launching a concerted campaign by leveraging the power and reach of our entire federation which numbers 244 motoring and sporting organisations in 146 countries on 5 continents.

This campaign will build on the collaborative work by the FIA and Formula 1 through the Drive It Out initiative.

I will be talking more about this at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix later this month.

Passions run high in sport, but online harassment, abuse and hate speech must not be tolerated.

Everyone in our sport, from the media, teams, drivers and fans has a role to play. We cannot ignore this. I urge the entire motorsport ecosystem to take a stand.

We must call it out. It has to stop.

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