FIA slammed by House of Lords peer over F1 Gulf human rights

Exclusive: Lords peer Paul Scriven has called out FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem for ‘completely ignoring’ a letter sent last year raising human rights concerns over F1 races held in the Gulf region

Kieran Jackson
Formula 1 Correspondent
Thursday 26 January 2023 14:04 GMT
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FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been directly criticised by a House of Lords peer after failing to respond to a letter raising concerns over Formula One races being held in the Gulf region.

Paul Scriven, a Liberal Democrat life peer, said that the FIA’s recent move to ban F1 drivers from making political statements without prior approval is a policy that will shield host countries from “scrutiny over injustice” and which targets the sport’s “most outspoken driver” Lewis Hamilton.

In a letter seen by The Independent, Lord Scriven labelled Ben Sulayem “deeply discourteous and unprofessional” after the Emirati executive “completely ignored” a letter in March 2022 about staging events in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, consequent human rights implications and accusations of facilitating sportswashing.

Lord Scriven, in a letter addressed to Ben Sulayem, writes: “Why do you think you can ignore parliamentarians? Do you think that concerns raised over human rights and the policies of the FIA should be above scrutiny?

“We wrote to you in order to raise concerns that are in the public interest, and we expect openness and transparency from the FIA. For the sake of clarity, I still expect to receive a response to our letter.”

Lord Scriven, alongside 90 European parliamentarians, called out the FIA ahead of the 2022 F1 season for “facilitating sportswashing” in Gulf countries, insisting “their continued failure to raise abuses committed by these regimes creates a stark double standard”.

He also sided with a letter sent on Tuesday to Ben Sulayem by human rights group BIRD (Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy), which voiced its concern that the FIA was “suppressing drivers’ freedom of speech” and questioned the governing body’s stance on human rights.

FIA boss Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been directly criticised by a House of Lords peer

This week, a Bahraini political prisoner also wrote to Hamilton, urging the seven-time world champion not to be “muzzled” by F1’s governing body.

Ali Alhajee, who has previously written to Hamilton, encouraged the Mercedes star to continue to speak out on human rights concerns despite being a “primary target” of the FIA’s new policy.

Formula One will this year race in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with Qatar also returning to the calendar having previously featured in 2021.

The new season starts in Bahrain – which last year signed a new contract with Formula One to race there until 2036 – on 5 March, with the second race in Saudi Arabia on 19 March. The final grand prix takes place in Abu Dhabi on 26 November.

BIRD director Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, in the wake of Scriven’s latest letter, told The Independent: “This is a timely and powerful letter from a member of the House of Lords spotlighting the FIA’s continued refusal to engage with lawmakers and human rights groups.

“Ben Sulayem’s insistence upon disengagement is seriously disturbing and we are stunned by their new repressive gagging measure, which is a direct attack upon freedom of expression. It is high time that the FIA and its president accept that they are not above scrutiny and accountability.

“When they choose to race in the most repressive states on Earth, they have a duty to protect human rights rather than silence their drivers and enrich abusers. These calls must be heard and the FIA simply cannot continue to bury its head in the sand.”

A representative for FIA president Ben Sulayem confirmed Lord Scriven’s letter had been received and a response would be sent in due course.

Ben Sulayem, 61, is already under fire this week from Formula One chiefs over “unacceptable” claims he made about the valuation of the sport’s commercial rights.

It is not the first time that Ben Sulayem and Formula One have clashed during the off-season. While he vocally supported Mario Gabriele Andretti’s bid to join Formula One alongside General Motors under the Cadillac brand, F1 released a statement altogether more reserved about any potential bid to join the grid.

Ben Sulayem took over as FIA president from Jean Todt at the start of 2022 and has not been afraid to stamp his mark on the sport immediately, having also pushed for a jewellery ban on F1 drivers, which Hamilton spoke out against last season.

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