AP Auto Racing Writer (AP) – Formula 1 has a “duty” to raise awareness of human rights issues as the series wraps up its Middle East season, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said Thursday.
F1 concludes its season with its inaugural races in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, followed by the season finale in Abu Dhabi, where the series has been racing since 2009. F1 has been racing in Bahrain since 2004 and now has four stops in the Middle East to his calendar. .
Hamilton has spoken out on human rights issues before and was instrumental in the release of a political prisoner earlier this year.
“There are issues in these places that we go to, as there are in the world, but of course (the Middle East) seems to be considered the worst in this part of the world,” Hamilton said ahead of the race. Sunday. , the first of a 10-year agreement between F1 and Qatar.
“I think when these sports go to these places, they have a duty to raise awareness about these issues and (that) these places need scrutiny, need the media to speak out.”
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been accused of “sporting cleansing” of their human rights records by using large-scale sporting events to project a favorable image of the country. Qatar will host the World Cup next year.
“Equal rights are a serious problem,” Hamilton said. “They are trying to make progress. That cannot change overnight. I heard there was things like a new reform with the ‘kafala’ system which was (still) in place ago. a few years.
“There is a long way to go. I just think that if we get to these places, we have to raise the profile of the situation. I think we can still put a spotlight on it and create that scrutiny and pressure that could hopefully create a change. “
Last year, Hamilton received personally addressed letters from three alleged torture survivors in Bahrain, as well as a hand-drawn photo of his Mercedes car by the young son of a Bahraini man on death row. The drawing has been shown exclusively to The Associated Press.
Hamilton said during last year’s race in Bahrain that human rights were “a major issue” in some of the countries F1 visited and “as a sport we need to do more”.
Najah Yusuf, one of three prisoners who wrote to Hamilton, was reunited with her 18-year-old son Kameel Juma in September after his release from prison in Bahrain. He had been imprisoned and had reportedly been tortured since December 2019 in what Amnesty International called “reprisals against his mother”.
His mother had spent more than two years in prison for criticizing the Bahrain F1 race on social media.
The AP had questioned Hamilton about Yusuf and other torture victims who wrote to him last season and the AP reporting played a role in the release of Yusuf’s son, according to Sayed Ahmed AlWadaei of the Bahrain Institute for rights and democracy.
The institute noted that human rights concerns remain a priority. In an email to the AP on Thursday, the institute spoke about the plight of Abdulajlil AlSingace, the former director of mechanical engineering at the University of Bahrain who began a 134th day of hunger strike to protest against “The confiscation by the prison authorities of his apolitical manuscript. manuscript on Bahraini dialects.
Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas were the only two of the 20 drivers on the F1 grid on Thursday to directly address human rights issues in the region.
“I agree that there is a lot of work to be done to raise awareness of situations in the world. I definitely support this, ”Bottas said. “I think we are trying to show as a sport that we are really equal and that it is possible.”
Special attention has been paid to human rights issues beyond F1, and football fans at German giant Bayern Munich have recently attempted to do so by urging the club to sever ties with the national airline. from Qatar.
Amnesty International also released a report in August accusing Qatari officials of doing little to investigate the thousands of deaths of young migrant workers in the country over the past decade, which includes preparations for the World Cup.
Human rights activists denounced the appearance of FIFA President Gianni Infantino in a promotional video for the Saudi government in which he said the kingdom had made significant changes. Premier League football club Newcastle has also come under scrutiny recently for its Saudi ownership.
Hamilton admitted on Thursday that he had not always been made aware of the problems. A Briton and the only black driver on the F1 grid, he has taken very public positions on issues of social justice, including racism and support for the LGBTQ community.
“I’ve been to a lot of these countries and I’ve been ignorant, I’ve been (oblivious) to some of the issues,” he said. “It’s up to you to decide if you decide to educate yourself and take more responsibility for the sport. It takes time to go out and learn more about a region that is foreign to us. We are not from those regions, it is incredibly complex on the ground in these places, with religion, so many complexities that it’s hard to even comprehend them all.
“One person can only make a certain difference, but collectively we can make a bigger impact,” added Hamilton. “Do I want more athletes to speak out on these issues? Yes.”
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