UK MPs express "grave concerns" over FIA and F1 role in "sportswashing"

UK Members of Parliament have expressed “grave concerns” to FIA and Formula 1 bosses over their role in “sportswashing” ahead of the 2023 season starting in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.


The 20-strong group of cross-party MPs, notably including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell, has called for an independent inquiry into the championship and governing body’s activities in countries with “questionable human rights records”.

This comes ahead of the opening round of the 2023 campaign in Bahrain this weekend before the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on 19 March.

In a letter addressed to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem and FIA single-seater chief Nikolas Tombazis, the MPs cite the execution of 81 prisoners in Saudi Arabia in one day in 2022.

They already note that Bahrain has the highest imprisonment rate of its population of any country in the Middle East and North Africa territory, with an estimated 1300 political prisoners.

The MPs write that they “condemn F1’s refusal to engage with key stakeholders including human rights groups, such as the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy when awarding Bahrain the longest contract in F1 history [until 2036], breaching F1’s own policy”.

They call on F1 and the FIA to establish an independent enquiry to assess the “adequacy and effectiveness of your current human rights policy, or lack thereof".

Furthermore, the MPs urge the two parties to “use all available leverage to make representations to Bahrain for them to immediately and unconditionally release political prisoners”.

The letter signs off with: “Multimillion dollar profits must not come at the expense of human rights.

MPs have criticised F1 for heading to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

MPs have criticised F1 for heading to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“You have a duty to ensure your presence has a positive impact, which will not be possible whilst political prisoners remain behind bars in Bahrain.

“If Lewis Hamilton can speak out, why can’t you?”

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, added: “MPs are right to expose Formula 1’s role in sportswashing Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s rights record.

“F1 leadership cannot simply claim that their presence in these countries has a positive impact, when evidence demonstrates otherwise.

“F1 continues to profiteer from brutal Gulf autocrats, making multi-millions whilst victims pay the price.

“When Lewis Hamilton is able to speak out in the face of injustice, he sets a moral standard that F1 management must follow.”

The lead signatory, Lord Scriven, said: “We are asking them to do things to improve the way the sport operates around human rights, they are not extreme or radical things, they are issues that we would expect any sporting organisation with any moral leadership at the heart of how motor sport's is governed and operates.”

In response, an FIA spokesperson said: "At the pinnacle of motorsport, F1 events take place across a huge spectrum of different countries and cultures around the world.

Dignitaries including Saudi royalty on the grid prior to the start

Dignitaries including Saudi royalty on the grid prior to the start

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

"It is our belief that the most fundamental goal of motorsport, and all sport, is founded on the desire to increase our common ground and cultivate the principles of cooperation and commonality between people.

"The FIA, as is the case with other international sporting federations, cannot interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.

"This independence from the affairs of states, as underlined by the International Olympic Committee, does not mean however that we are insensitive to any potential hardships endured by the people concerned.

"The FIA will continue to work on projects that bring positive benefits to the wider society, acting always within its scope as the regulator of world motorsport."

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Domenicali said: “For decades Formula 1 has worked hard be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits.

"Sports like Formula 1 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 human rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered.”

Previous article A bad week or the dark horse from F1 testing?
Next article How teams are pushing back against F1's bid to stop outwash