F1 CEO links to rights abuses in Bahrain under fire in House of Lords debate on “Sportswashing”

F1 CEO links to rights abuses in Bahrain under fire in House of Lords debate on “Sportswashing”

21 March 2024, In the first-of-its-kind debate on “sportswashing” in the House of Lords last week, 21 March, Lord Scriven slammed F1 and accused F1 CEO Stefano Dominecali of “arrogance, lack of professionalism and non-engagement” and “damaging the reputation of his sport as he refuses to engage with the issues around F1 and human rights.”

Lord Scriven revealed that he was forced to launch this debate after repeated failure of F1 CEO to engage with him. During the debate he stated: 

“He [Domenicali] thinks he can just receive the reported £574 million from the Bahrain authorities up to 2036 that makes him and his organisation richer, while having nothing to do with the real issues that his sport is helping to cloak in Bahrain.”

In a letter sent by Lord Scriven to Mr Domenicali prior to the debate, he stated in clear terms that:

“Your choice not to engage with me makes it clear you do not have robust evidence of F1’s positive impact on human rights and a lack of due diligence on mitigating risks has been carried out if at all.

I am led to believe that you think it is appropriate for F1 senior leadership to ignore those concerned about F1 activities, which will allow the Bahraini authorities to commit human rights abuses and continue to sportswash their dire human rights record.”

Lord Addington accused F1 of “rampant cowardice”, telling the House that: 

“The organisation [F1] not being prepared to stand up and say yes, will you make some changes and there was a price to pay for having this huge benefit, is an act of rampant cowardice.”

“They should really be doing something about it. Much of it’s British based, surely you should be saying, at least saying, if you are going to oppress your population, please don’t do it on our watch.”

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle also raised F1 in particular, stating:

“The regime has regularly used the Grand Prix to enhance its image, and over the past two decades, […] there have been numerous human rights violations directly associated with the event itself; we are coming back to bloodstains again.”

She also had hard-hitting questions for the Minister, asking:

“Would the Minister defend the UK ambassador to Bahrain, Alastair Long, on 2 March 2024 releasing a promotional video celebrating 20 years of F1 in Bahrain? He talked of the vision it took from His Majesty and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince and boasted of Bahrain-UK tourism ties, completely ignoring human rights abuses and actively sportswashing the regime. I remind your Lordships’ House that this is the UK ambassador to Bahrain. Does the Minister consider that acceptable?”

Peers also notably raised the arrest and torture of Sayed Hashem Alwadaei during F1 testing this year. 

Lord Scriven stated:

“Hajer Mansoor’s son has been arrested without a warrant. This 20 year-old young man, Sayed Hashim AlWadaei, was arrested after a house raid last month and has subsequently been tortured and interrogated while blindfolded, without the presence of his lawyer, on allegations of participating in unauthorised protest. It is clear that his arrest was strategically timed to coincide with the F1 testing, and that his detention was extended in the lead-up to the race for political reasons—namely, to silence all protest surrounding the Bahrain Grand Prix.”

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle “ask[ed] the Government what they are doing in that situation?” 

She reiterated: 

“What steps will the Government take to ensure Sayed Hashim’s release?”

Lord Parkinson, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport responded: 

“The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, understandably raised the case of Sayed Hashim, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. The Foreign Office is aware of Sayed Hashim’s detention and we encourage the Government of Bahrain to meet all of their human rights commitments. We also encourage those with specific concerns to raise them directly with the appropriate Bahraini oversight body. I know that the noble Lord campaigns diligently on this and other cases in relation to Bahrain.”

Commenting after the debate, Lord Scriven stated:

“It is very clear that wealthy individuals in the UK are not interested in dealing with serious implications of their sport on human rights and democratic norms when bought by Gulf States such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. 

This debate has taken the lid off the murky waters some are swimming when it comes to sportswashing and the Government will now act. I hope that after this debate, the UK Government will act to regulate their role, in regard to due diligence on human rights issues and also think through foreign ownership of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia and Mclaren F1 team by Bahrain in the new bill that is before Parliament, in terms of banning foreign state ownership of clubs and teams here”

Hopefully, people like Mr Domenicali will take their role seriously, conducting due diligence, rather than help countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia turn the spotlight away human rights abuses and democratic issues that are abound in their country—effectively ‘sportswashing’ their record.”

Commenting, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Advocacy Director at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD): 

“As someone who has witnessed the impact of sportwashing in Bahrain firsthand, it is clear that F1 only cares about the millions in profit they make in abusive regimes and disregard any consequences that the sport has on people on the ground. 

This year, my brother-in-law was arrested, abused, and arbitrarily detained to deter protests during F1 that might embarrass the Bahraini government. 

This debate shows that sporting bodies and their senior leadership who choose not to engage on human rights will be called out in Parliament. 

It’s high time for the UK government to regulate the ownership of sporting bodies and clubs by autocratic states in Britain, preventing them from laundering their image.”

The debate was featured in: 


Read the debate transcript: 


Watch the debate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKKcCSrPHFo

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