Organisers of Formula 1’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix say they are keen to meet with potential critics, including drivers, over the human rights record in the country.
Formula 1 will visit Saudi Arabia for the first time later this year, with the Jeddah Corniche Circuit due to hold the penultimate round of the 2021 season in December.
Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights has regularly come under scrutiny, particularly as it continues to expand its portfolio in hosting sporting events.
Amnesty International outlines that government critics, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders and journalists are harassed, arbitrarily detained and prosecuted on a regular basis.
It cited cases of unfair trials, the outcome of which sometimes led to the death penalty, while migrant workers are “even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation because of the pandemic.”
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are regularly persecuted, with homosexuality prohibited, and punishable by flogging and imprisonment.
Saudi Arabian Grand Prix promoter Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal revealed he spoke to a couple of drivers at Silverstone and listened to their concerns.
“I spoke with them openly and said ‘listen, I’m not going to tell anything, you come to Saudi Arabia, and you see it, and if you want to come before the race you can come and judge yourself’,” he said.
“Whatever I say about my country it is better for you to come and see it yourself, meet with the local people, and there you can have your opinion.
“I’m sure you have friends from teams that came for Formula E or the Dakar Rally; you can ask and have your opinion.
“We are inviting anyone from the media who would love to come to Saudi, even before the race, you can come and have a chance to see our country freely and then say your opinion about our country, as we are confident about what we have progressed and where we are going, so we have no issues.”
Formula 1 unveiled its We Race As One slogan ahead of the delayed 2020 season as part of its initiative to promote equality and diversity within motorsport.
Prince Khalid emphasised that Formula 1 and Saudi Arabia are aligned in its long-term ambitions.
“Human rights, the quality of life in Saudi Arabia, this is an initiative from the government, so we work closely with F1 so we are both aligned with our missions, Saudi mission and F1’s obligations for human rights,” he said.
“So as of now things are progressing really good between us.
“This is part of our strategy, [in] Saudi Arabia we are opening up our country, we want to prove the quality of life for anybody, for the Saudis or anyone that visits Saudi Arabia, this will help us achieve our goals.”