Saudi Arabia is Unfazed by F1 Criticism: An Inside Look

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This past weekend, Jeddah held its third grand prix event in 16 months, which raised concerns about why F1 is hosting a race there. On the day of the event, an organization focused on human rights (called Reprieve) made public their disagreement with Saudi Arabia’s actions.

Maya Foa, a director at the Reprieve organization, said that even though people talk about positive values and how to make things better, Formula 1 (F1) never really talked seriously about human rights or how the sport can be used to cover up bad stuff that’s done by cruel governments.

She also mentioned that in the past two weeks, there have been at least 13 executions in Saudi Arabia, including a dad of 8 whose case was brought to light by United Nations experts and British politicians.

The Saudi government has decided to carry out executions just before the Jeddah Grand Prix. They think that nobody will speak up and F1’s bright lights will take attention away from this terrible act of violence.

A group of 21 organizations that care about protecting people’s rights, and some unions, wrote a letter asking the person in charge of Formula 1 (F1) racing to be more careful when they have races in countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. They worry these countries might use this sport as an excuse to hide things happening with human rights abuses. After the letter was sent, Reprieve agreed with what it said.

People all around the world worry about human rights, including those in Saudi Arabia. The country thinks that having F1 races is a good way to show the outside world what’s happening on the inside and give it a chance to improve. They know they need to make changes and be better, which is why they host races like F1.

Recently, something exciting started happening at King Abdulaziz International Airport. They began playing a video about a young girl who wanted to race in Formula One (F1) and succeeded. This is special because five years ago, women weren’t allowed to drive cars in her country – so it means that people’s thoughts and opinions are gradually changing.

The Saudi government, hosting major events like F1, is not trying to make its name known across the world. Instead they are focused on delivering benefits to their mostly youthful population. Last weekend at the F1 race, Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal spoke about how investing in such events makes a positive difference for people back home – despite criticism from outside countries.

“We are hosting these activities to give young people something fun to do,” he said.

Most of the people in Saudi Arabia are younger than 40 years old, and there’s lots of them who want to participate in karting or rallying. Also, Aramco is linked with F1 which means we can now take part in the F1 in Schools programme.

“Lots of people are really excited about our kingdom hosting an event like this. It’s awesome to witness the huge sense of participation from everyone in the community! We couldn’t have done it without putting on such a cool show for everyone to take part in.”

It’s only been three years since F1 racing arrived in Saudi Arabia, so we still have some work to do before it feels completely normal here like other nations where they’ve been having these events for ages.

Prince Abdulaziz says that sports like boxing have had a really positive effect in Saudi Arabia. Before 2019, when they hosted the Joshua/Ruiz Jr. world title fight, there were only six gyms with boxing in Saudi Arabia. But after the fight, they have 57 gyms and 300% more people participating in the sport!

At the start of the race, four drivers named Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing RB19), Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin AMR23), and George Russell (Mercedes F1 W14) were ready to go along with the rest of the racers. Steven Tee took a picture of them for the F1Flow Images.

Hosting F1 races can have major benefits for motorsports in general including getting more kids interested to drive fast cars or even race one day! Parents bring their children to watch these events, and they leave feeling amazed and own an even bigger interest in racing.

“We can see these positive benefits in our daily lives, but many people haven’t talked about them. We’re most concerned with how to help the people and give them what they need.”

Plus, other sports are growing quickly in Saudi Arabia. Women’s football has made a giant leap forward, now they have their own league and their national team is playing international matches to try and qualify for the next World Cup.

Recently, there has been criticism about a potential Visit Saudi sponsorship deal for the upcoming World Cup in New Zealand and Australia. Prince Abdulaziz said that this didn’t recognize all of the hard work done to improve women’s football in Saudi Arabia.

“Recently, some people were talking in the news about women’s football but they didn’t really know what was happening in our country,” he said.

“They might not like it, but we’re still going to keep developing more opportunities for women’s football.”

We want to do what’s best for female footballers in our country, and also make sure they have a chance to join the World Cup. We’ll keep going even though it might be hard – we must give them this opportunity!

Prince Abdulaziz from Saudi Arabia said that F1 is helping to make a positive impact in his country. This includes getting more females involved, such as female marshals and having 40% of people hired for the event be female or higher. It’s also encouraging diversity and sustainability goals.

“Because of the event that we are planning, there are some job openings available. This means that it will require a whole year of preparation and the full team will be involved in the development of setting up this program.”

Driver opinions

Although Formula 1 drivers said they liked how Saudi Arabia handled things this year compared to last year, not everyone was necessarily happy.

Drivers were very cautious with the words they used while discussing their feelings of racing in Saudi Arabia, as to not mix up safety issues with topics like human rights. When Valtteri Bottas was asked about his opinion upon returning to Jeddah, he replied saying that he only enjoys the track but does not want to talk about any other topics related to Saudi Arabia.

Lewis Hamilton also revealed that he felt differently to the other drivers on matters related to safety. He said that F1 has a responsibility to make sure people know and understand topics they may not feel comfortable discussing.

He stated that if he was gone, F1 would go on, but he wanted to learn as much as possible so he visits different places.

As a sport, we have a responsibility to do more in places with human rights problems. We don’t know for sure what this ‘more’ should be, but we need to work together to help people who are suffering.

In Saudi Arabia, the F1 officials listen to criticisms and use them to determine how they’re doing something. But at the same time, Prince Khalid bin Al Faisal, who runs the Saudi Automobile & Motorcycle Federation, also admits that different cultures have different rules.

He said, “We want everyone to express their opinion. We don’t oppose anybody’s beliefs but at the same time, we also hope that people respect our culture. We aren’t trying to stop Hamilton from saying what he believes or wearing what he wants.

However, if he thinks something is improper and wants to talk to us, then we’ll listen and accept his views.”

In Saudi Arabia, we have our own traditions and laws. When we go to other countries, we always respect their laws and traditions too. If someone visits us in Saudi Arabia, they should know that they can express what they think and believe here but must also remember to show respect for our laws and culture. Mutual respect is key!

Prince Abdulaziz said that Saudi Arabia is willing to have a conversation with people to learn how they can continue making improvements. He mentioned that he had met with Lewis twice, and the two spoke in an open way about all matters. There will be no judgment from their side on what Lewis has to say.

We hope to show him that we are improving, and in the next few years, work together to keep advancing. Picture taken at this event shows Stefano Domenicali, CEO of Formula 1, HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa and Mohammed bin Sulayem, President of FIA, standing on the race track.

People are very critical of Saudi Arabia and they are worried about how the country handles its human rights situation. But, the country is aware that it’s not at its final destination yet and believes hosting events such as Formula 1 can help them reach their goals. Prince Abdulaziz said: “We know that we have a lot of tasks to do as both a sport and a nation. We are on it.”

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