61 UK MPs Condemn Sportswashing at Bahrain Grand Prix

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25 March 2021 – A coalition of 61 cross-party UK parliamentarians have written to new F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali urging him to “establish an independent inquiry into abuses” linked to the Bahrain Grand Prix and to meet with victims and rights groups before the race “with a view to securing their compensation”, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) announced today.

The letter was sent last week by Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Layla Moran MP, and re-sent yesterday backed by an additional 20 signatories after F1 failed to respond to a request for an urgent meeting. The call for an inquiry into historic human rights abuses has also been backed by 24 leading rights groups and trade unions.

In the letter, MPs claim that F1 has “consistently failed to support victims of abuses directly linked” to its races, including Bahraini activist Najah Yusuf, who was tortured and imprisoned for criticising the 2017 Grand Prix and whose son is detained in “reprisal” for her activism. Signatories also highlighted a severe deterioration in the human rights situation in Bahrain since the race was cancelled a decade ago during the “brutal suppression of Bahrain’s Arab Spring uprising,” urging F1 to follow the example of F1 champion Sir Lewis Hamilton, who has acknowledged human rights issues in countries where F1 races. 

Particular concern was raised over the continued imprisonment of the leaders of the uprising, including Hassan Mushaima and Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace. The letter also raises the case of Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, who remains imprisoned in reprisal for the human rights work of his brother-in-law, BIRD Director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, as well as the recent detention of over a dozen children by Bahraini police, including a boy of just 11 detained last month for protesting against last year’s Grand Prix.

Earlier this month, members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Bahrain; the Greens-European Free Alliance bloc made explicit calls for EU member states “not to attend and participate in the upcoming Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix 2021,” an example of growing international concern over sports-washing.

Read the full letter here.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), commented: “MPs have made it crystal clear that F1 can no longer shirk their human rights responsibility while reaping massive profits from their relationship with abusive partners. Now it’s up to F1 to decide whether they will act or continue to drag their reputation through the mud.

Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, commented: “F1’s dismissal of our serious human rights concerns is simply not good enough. They have consistently failed to support victims of abuses directly linked to their races.

We urge F1 to publicly acknowledge the legitimate human rights concerns voiced by Lewis Hamilton, to establish an independent inquiry into any abuses linked to the Grand Prix and meet privately with stakeholders and victims to start putting this right.”

Brendan O’Hara, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and Human Rights in the Gulf, commented: “I am extremely disappointed that F1, despite the overwhelming evidence they have in front of them have chosen to follow the UK government’s lead in turning a blind eye to the well documented human rights abuses in Bahrain, simply to maximise their profits.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavillion, commented: “In 2012, I backed calls for the Bahrain Grand Prix to be cancelled in light of the government’s violent crackdown on dissent, but almost a decade later F1 is still operating in Bahrain, and is linked to cases of abuse.  F1’s most successful driver, Sir Lewis Hamilton,  recognises F1’s “massive problem” with human rights, which F1’s management are ignoring.  They should follow the lead of their champion driver and take concrete steps to ensure their sport is no longer used by Bahrain as an excuse to target dissenting voices.”

Lord Scriven commented: “F1 still offers Bahrain a global stage from which to sportswash their appalling rights record, despite abundant evidence linking human rights violations back to their events. This has created a vicious cycle every time F1 returns to the country, with Bahrain crushing dissent while trumpeting themselves as a country fit to play on the international stage. It is time for F1 finally to step up and launch an independent inquiry into rights abuses connected to their races, or risk  further dragging the reputation of their sport into the mud.”

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