Saudi Arabia insists F1 grand prix not effort to "sportswash" image

Saudi Arabia's motorsport boss insists the country is not trying to 'sportswash' its image amid criticism over its inclusion on Formula 1's calendar for 2021

Saudi Arabia insists F1 grand prix not effort to "sportswash" image

The Middle East kingdom has just signed a deal to hold a night race on a new street circuit in Jeddah from next year.

The grand prix will then switch to a new purpose built facility at Qiddiya from 2023.

The addition of Saudi Arabia to the calendar has generated some criticism, with human rights organisation Amnesty International issuing a statement warning F1 about the country using F1 as way to divert attention from other issues.

Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK's head of campaigns, said: "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."

Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, president of the Saudi Arabian motorsport federation that is in charge of the race, is aware that some are unhappy about the country joining the F1 schedule.

But he thinks that the addition of the race is part of a process that Saudi Arabia is going through to be more open to the outside world - rather than shutting its borders and hiding what is going on.

Asked about his response to some fans not being happy about Saudi Arabia being on the F1 calendar, he said: "I don't blame them, when you don't know a country, and when you have a certain image of a country.

"I remember myself when my parents used to tell me we're going to go to the US, especially to New York, I was frightened.

"I would think that I'm going to walk in the street and somebody will come and shoot me, because I'd never been there.

"I know why they're not excited about it, because of a lot of issues with the human rights, and because they've never been to Saudi.

"That's why, now for us opening up, and hopefully with people coming in Saudi Arabia, seeing the country, and then going back and reporting what they saw, this will make maybe people change their mind."

Prince Khalid said that there had been similar resistance prior to motorsport events like Dakar and Formula E being hosted there, but feelings changed once people saw it first hand.

"This happened to us with Dakar, we had a lot of people...about 3000 participants and drivers came," he said.

"Most of them, they had the same impression, and they were not happy. Even with Formula E, like BMW and other teams, they said, they didn't want to go to Saudi Arabia.

"But after they came to Saudi Arabia, and after they saw us and met us, they changed their perspective about Saudi Arabia.

"This is one of the issues and why we had this bad image, because we were closed, our country was closed.

"So part of the vision and part of opening up our country, we would like people to come and see who we really are. We don't have anything to hide.

"If we wanted to sportswash our image or something, then we will close our country because we will not let you come and see and meet with our people."

With Saudi Arabia aware of concerns over human rights, Prince Khalid said the matter had been discussed with F1 chiefs.

But he says that there needs to be some understanding about Saudi Arabia having a different culture and history to other countries.

"We definitely had a conversation on that," he explained. "And I know, maybe this is a thing that a lot of people talk about with Saudi Arabia, but we are not like the other countries.

"We know that we are different. We have our culture. There are things that people can do in other places that they can't do here.

"But we respect our differences, and we are opening our country to anyone.

"We don't have any discriminations, so everybody can come. If you're a man or a woman, there is no segregation.

"We know we're different, but we respect our differences. And it's something that we take seriously.

He added: "Sport brings people together and unites them. So that's why we are hosting these events."

shares
comments
2020 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix session timings and preview

Previous article

2020 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix session timings and preview

Next article

How COVID-19 played a part in Mercedes' domination

How COVID-19 played a part in Mercedes' domination
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Jonathan Noble
The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture Plus

The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture

Aston Martin’s only previous foray into Formula 1 in the late 1950s was a short-lived and unsuccessful affair. But it could have been so different, says NIGEL ROEBUCK

Formula 1
Apr 10, 2021
Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of car-racing titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace Plus

Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of car-racing titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace

Max Verstappen’s star quality in Formula 1 is clear. Now equipped with a Red Bull car that is, right now, the world title favourite and the experience to support his talent, could 2021 be the Dutchman’s year to topple the dominant force of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

Formula 1
Apr 9, 2021
Are we at peak F1 right now? Plus

Are we at peak F1 right now?

For many, many years Formula 1 has strived to do and to be better on all fronts. With close competition, a growing fanbase, a stable political landscape and rules in place to encourage sustainability, 2021 is on course to provide an unexpected peak

Formula 1
Apr 8, 2021
How crucial marginal calls will decide the Red Bull vs Mercedes battle in F1 2021 Plus

How crucial marginal calls will decide the Red Bull vs Mercedes battle in F1 2021

The longer Red Bull can maintain a performance edge over Mercedes, the better the odds will be in the team’s favour against the defending world champions. But as the Bahrain Grand Prix showed, many more factors will be critical in the outcome of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship

Formula 1
Apr 7, 2021
How Williams’ new structure adheres to a growing F1 trend Plus

How Williams’ new structure adheres to a growing F1 trend

Williams held out against the tide for many years but, as MARK GALLAGHER explains, the age of the owner-manager is long gone

Formula 1
Apr 6, 2021
When a journeyman driver's F1 career lasted just 800m Plus

When a journeyman driver's F1 career lasted just 800m

Nikita Mazepin’s Formula 1 debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix lasted mere corners before he wiped himself out in a shunt, but his financial backing affords him a full season. Back in 1993 though, Marco Apicella was an F1 driver for just 800m before a first corner fracas ended his career. Here’s the story of his very short time at motorsport’s pinnacle

Formula 1
Apr 4, 2021
The nightmare timing that now hinders Mercedes Plus

The nightmare timing that now hinders Mercedes

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton took victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix despite, for a change, not having the quickest car. But any hopes of developing its W12 to surpass Red Bull's RB16B in terms of outright speed could not have come at a worse time.

Formula 1
Apr 2, 2021
How Raikkonen's rapid rise stalled his team-mate's F1 career climb Plus

How Raikkonen's rapid rise stalled his team-mate's F1 career climb

Kimi Raikkonen’s emergence as a Formula 1 star in his rookie campaign remains one of the legendary storylines from 2001, but his exploits had an unwanted impact on his Sauber team-mate’s own prospects. Twenty years on from his first F1 podium at the Brazilian GP, here’s how Nick Heidfeld’s career was chilled by the Iceman

Formula 1
Apr 1, 2021