After much speculation, Formula 1 has officially confirmed that its first ever Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia will race through the streets of Jeddah in 2021. This has left many fans of the sport questioning whether “we really race as one?’
We don’t race as one
F1 found itself in the middle of one of the biggest civil rights movements of the 21st century when its star driver Lewis Hamilton started the season prominently displaying his support for the Black Lives Matter.
Hamilton called on his peers within the sport to join him in supporting BLM. CEO of Formula One, Chase Carey then revealed the We Race As One initiative, aiming to tackle the biggest issues facing the sport and global communities.
These issues include the condemnation of racism and inequality. After several inconsistent and somewhat messy pre-race displays of being anti-racism, F1 formalised an end racism message to be displayed before the British Grand Prix.
This and all subsequent events had the current drivers on the grid, and substitute driver Nico Hulkenberg, pledging to “not remain silent” and “committing to ending racism.”
The news that Formula 1 would race in Saudi Arabia contradicts their message of promoting equality within the sport. Saudi Arabia has been under considerable scrutiny from human rights organisations, something that hasn’t changed in recent years.
In fact, comdemnation has intensified, particularly following the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen, which has been accused of carrying out unlawful air strikes and blockades.
Saudi Arabia joins a long list of intolerant countries on the F1 calendar
Saudi Arabia also ranks extremely low when it comes to LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and/or Queer) rights, with homosexuality and being transgender considered to be a potentially capital offence.
The addition of Saudi Arabia to the race calendar will have LGBTQ fans worried, as it joins Azerbaijan, Hungary, Singapore, Russia, the United States of America and Abu Dhabi on the list of current race locations where people who are LGBTQ face hostilities.
Including Saudi Arabia, this means that almost one third of the 2021 race calendar will be hosted in countries with contrasting beliefs to those presented in the We Race As One initiative.
In response to many human rights organisations, including Amnesty International who accused Formula One of allowing Saudi Arabia to ‘sportwash’ away the controversies of its nation, F1 stated “for decades Formula One has worked hard to be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits.
Sports like Formula One 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.”
The move to confirm Saudi Arabia despite the protests against it have prompted some to question whether the We Race As One initiative might have an expiration date, if existing at all.
Formula One attempting to put itself forward as a vehicle for equality means that it will have to look inward at its own practices and who it chooses to ally with.
Siding with countries accused of human rights atrocities is not the best way for them to achieve that equality. If Formula One is to truly race as one, then it needs to forsake the financial oil well that is Saudi Arabia and opt instead for countries who have protections in place for everybody and not just the rich, white, heterosexual, cisgender males of the population.