Dec 3, 2021 - Sports

Formula 1 accused of "sportswashing" ahead of controversial Saudi Arabia race

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team practices today ahead of the Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah. Photo: Hasan Bratic/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Formula 1, one of the world's most popular sports, is under fire for staging its first-ever race in Saudi Arabia this Sunday.

Why it matters: Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused F1 of complicity in "sportswashing" — or helping the Saudi regime distract from human rights abuses.

  • Seven-time champ Lewis Hamilton, a vocal proponent of increasing diversity and equality in F1, said he does not feel comfortable racing there this weekend.
  • In a letter to F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, British politicians wrote that "staging a race in Jeddah without addressing these grave violations of international law risks being seen as a tacit endorsement of them."

The big picture: F1 nears 1 billion fans globally, and thanks largely to the uber-popular Netflix series, "Drive to Survive," the U.S. now represents its fastest-growing market.

  • The head of F1's governing body told CNBC it isn't the role of motorsport to "get involved with political issues."
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