According to FIA president Jean Todt, it is the full right of Formula 1 to organize races in countries under discussion for human rights, such as the new race in Saudi Arabia later this season.
When Formula 1 announced that a GP of Saudi Arabia would be held in 2021, fans, human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGO) alike received a frown. The country is known for not always dealing with human rights correctly.
F1 race as a distraction for the problems in a country?
Amnesty International described the organization of the F1 race as a way to polish the country’s reputation and fool the outside world. But FIA president Jean Todt disagrees and even agrees that F1 should visit countries such as Bahrain, China and Russia to discuss the issue.
“It’s something close to my heart,” he said ahead of the French Grand Prix. “And for the past five years I have been deeply involved with the UN as Secretary General Special Delegate for Road Safety.”
“If you see the committee that I put together at a high level on road safety, you have Michael Ellison, former High Commissioner for Human Rights.”
“You have Michelle Bachelet, who is the current High Commissioner for Human Rights. You have Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner for Refugees. So in a way it’s a privilege to be able to discuss with them.”
Formula 1 wants to race everywhere
“Yesterday Stefano Domenicali came to visit me and Jacques Toubon, the former justice minister who was responsible for human rights in France until last year, and I spoke to him about it.”
“And everyone is in favor of holding races all over the world. I mean, we’re a sport.”
“It’s also something I’ve discussed very often with the International Olympic Committee, with Thomas Bach. Because they have the same problem. And we clearly believe that sport should not be involved with politics.”
Todt believes the FIA should work with NGOs to help them highlight the problems in countries that Formula 1 visits.
“We need to work with NGOs,” Todt said. “And I mean, good NGOs, like Human Rights Watch, who are decent people, asking them how we can do our part. So we are working on that.”
A chance to do something about it
“You can interpret the way you help. In my opinion, visiting those countries also gives the opportunity to people who are negative about the country to speak, which they probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.”
“So, like I said, it’s a matter of interpretation. But for me it feels good.”
FIA decides where to race
He also confirmed that the FIA has the final say on the organization of a race hosted in a particular country by Liberty Media.
“Who proposes the calendar? It is the holder of the commercial rights. It would be unfair to say it’s just them because we can say they shouldn’t go there. And they will follow us, so we agree.”
“For at the end of the day, when a calendar is proposed, it comes to me, and to the World Council, which agrees to it. I don’t remember anyone ever telling us not to go anywhere.”
“It is a joint agreement to go to those countries,” concludes the FIA president.
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