Lewis Hamilton not comfortable racing in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns

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The seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has spoken of his discomfort surrounding racing in Saudi Arabia, adding he believes he is now “duty-bound” to continue to raise awareness for certain issues, including women and LGBTQ+ rights in such countries.

The event has faced criticism from many organisations, and on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch expressed concern to Formula One about what they felt was “a deliberate strategy to deflect attention from its pervasive human rights abuses” by holding a race in Jeddah.

HRW requested a meeting with the FIA president Jean Todt, adding they felt the sport was “bolstering the Saudi government’s well-funded efforts to whitewash its image despite a significant increase in repression over the last few years.”

Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Saudi remains prohibitive on what women can and cannot do.

In Qatar, the Mercedes driver spoke about raising awareness of human rights issues for the inaugural race, with F1 boss Stefano Domenicali believing sport could help promote change by racing in countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

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Now, as Formula One prepares to race in Saudi Arabia this weekend, questions have once again been circulating surrounding human rights issues, and what Hamilton, a vocal advocate of equality and diversity, hopes will be achieved by racing there.

“As I said last race, I felt that the sport and we are duty-bound to make sure that we try to help raise awareness for certain issues that we’ve seen, particularly human rights in these countries that we’re going to,” said Hamilton speaking during Thursday’s Saudi Arabian press conference.

Despite concerns, the Mercedes driver added that he had received “a warm welcome from people on the ground” but admitted he did have issues with F1 racing there and what it meant to F1’s ‘We Race As One’ slogan.

“I can’t pretend to be the most knowledgeable and have the deepest of understanding of someone that has grown up in the community here that is heavily affected by certain rules and the regime,” he said,

“Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn’t say I do, but it’s not my choice to be here.

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“The sport has taken the choice to be here and whether it’s right or wrong, I think whilst we are here, again, I feel it is important to raise awareness.

“For example at the last race [in Qatar] you saw the helmet that I wore, I will wear that again here and in the next race because that is an issue and is a law, so if anyone wants to take the time to go and read what law is for the LGBTQ+ community is pretty terrifying. So and there are changes that need to be made.

“For example, women’s rights of being able to drive in 2018, It’s how they’re policed. Are they really in effect?

“Some of the women are still in prison from driving many, many years ago.

“There is a lot of change that needs to happen and our sport needs to do more.”

Qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix takes place on Saturday at 5pm GMT, with the race getting underway at 5.30pm on Sunday.

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