Toto Wolff on Middle East controversy: ‘Things can’t be hidden any more’

Saudi Arabia and Qatar joined Abu Dhabi and Bahrain on the 2021 calendar, as the Middle East’s influence on Formula 1 grows.

The Middle East is full of riches, and with this comes a draw for sports to travel to that part of the world, in the hopes of securing lucrative sponsorship deals and contracts.

Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain all featured in the season just gone, while Qatar also made its debut in 2021, as the sport grows more and more across all parts of the globe.

Major events in the Middle East usually come with their controversies, with some fans disagreeing with Formula One’s decision to race in countries with primitive views, such as the illegality of homosexuality.

Lewis Hamilton wore a rainbow helmet in protest of the prosecution of homosexuals in Qatar last year, and with the FIFA World Cup currently being hosted in the same country, the same argument has once again come to the fore.

Lando Norris at the 2021 Qatar F1 Grand Prix.v1

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Teams have been strongly advised against wearing rainbow armbands in support of the One Love campaign, while the deaths of migrant workers who build the stadiums to host the matches have seemingly been swept under the carpet by Qatari officials.

Toto Wolff has been asked for his thoughts surrounding football’s biggest tournament being hosted in a country with such issues, and has put somewhat of a positive spin on sport being hosted in the Middle East.

“I’m still of the belief that when you have such a big sporting even in a country, it puts the spotlight on that country,” explained Wolff.

“I think that can trigger change, because things can’t be hidden any more, and that’s the kind of positive that I think a sport can do. Things are being addressed.

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“Is it like we want it to be? No. Is it the kind of cultural standards that we have in Europe? Maybe not.”

Wolff has suggested that change is already happening as a result of Formula One’s increased involvement in the Middle East.

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“Where we go, and the people I speak to, I see process and I see change. That’s maybe because we are Formula 1, where we go may be different, but I see that we have an impact,” he told reporters.

“I can’t judge the football. I read the newspapers and the headlines. We can just try, where we go to show our presence, to interact with the leadership, and not to hide away.”

Formula 1 will remain involved with the Middle East for the foreseeable, after F1 extended their deal to race in Bahrain until 2036 earlier this year.