Earlier this month, it was confirmed that a race in Saudi Arabia would be held next season, bringing the 2021 calendar up to a record-breaking 23 grand prix.
However, while many people in the Gulf were excited by the new event, much of the Formula One community was critical of racing in Saudi Arabia due to the country’s well-documented record of human rights violations, among other matters.
Amnesty International was quick to warn that an F1 race in the county would be part of the Saudi government’s efforts to “sportswash” itself.
“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,” Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns, warned.
Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, president of the Saudi Arabian motorsport federation responsible for organising the event, has since said he is aware that some people are opposed to Formula One racing in the Kingdom.
However, he has denied that the Saudi government is using Formula One to “sportswash” itself to the outside world.
“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,” he added.
Continuing, the prince said: “So 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.
“So 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.”
He also claimed that other racing series, such as Formula E, were also sceptical about racing in Saudi Arabia, but their perspective on the country changed after visiting it.
“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,” he concluded.
His final remark suggests he doesn’t quite understand what Amnesty International means by “sportswash”, but, in any case, organisers are pushing on with plans to race in the Kingdom next year.