The bosses of ormula 1 have been accused of having “washed away the bloodthirsty regime of Mohammed bin Salman through sport” on the eve of the second edition of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The second race of the season comes less than two weeks after Saudi authorities revealed 81 executions in a single day.
The sport has a 10-year deal, worth £50million a year, to host a race in Saudi Arabia and has repeatedly said it will use its platform to help bring about change.
But Reprieve, which investigates and campaigns against human rights abuses, said it was wrong for the sport to have a run in the country.
Reprieve director Maya Foa said: “Stefano Domenicali [F1 CEO] says Saudi Arabia is moving in the right direction as the kingdom is on track to execute nearly 500 people this year, more than twice as many as before.
“By running there so soon after a mass execution, Formula 1 is signaling that there will be no consequences for executing people who took part in pro-democracy protests. The 10-year deal that F1 has just signed with the kingdom is in fact a contract to wash away the bloodthirsty regime of Mohammed bin Salman.
Bin Salman is the kingdom’s crown prince and chairs the country’s sovereign wealth fund, estimated at £380bn and intended to invest funds on behalf of the government.
The United Nations also slammed the recent 81 executions for what have been deemed “terrorist offences”, citing that 41 were from the minority Shia community in Saudi Arabia after their role in anti-government protests.
On the eve of the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last November, Formula 1 CEO Domenicali told Standard Sport that the sport would be an “accelerator with this need for change” and that “someone in the future can truly say that Formula 1 has helped to ensure these changes happen more quickly”.
And in an interview with Sky Sports this week, the Italian said he still believed F1 could be a major driver of change in the kingdom. F1 bosses are believed to have raised concerns over the mass executions.
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, who will miss a second race this season due to Covid, have both raised concerns about racing in Arabia last season.
Hamilton said today: “My position is still the same as I spoke of last year. There really isn’t much I can say that will make a difference. It is obviously breathtaking to hear the stories. I heard that a letter was sent to me by a 14 year old on death row.
“When you’re 14, you don’t know what you’re doing for a living. We don’t decide where we are going. I think we have an opportunity. We have a duty to try to do what we can here. Not necessarily our responsibility. We try to do what we can. It’s important that we try to educate ourselves…make sure we do something. It is the responsibility of those in power to make the changes. We don’t see enough. We need to see more.
Asked if drivers should meet with Saudi officials to discuss these issues, he added: “It shouldn’t be our responsibility. It is a complex situation. I’m always open to trying to understand and why things are happening.
“It’s 2022 and it’s easy to make changes. I am open to doing so. I don’t know who I should talk to. I know Boris [Johnson] been here recently. I heard that human rights were raised at that time. What was said, what was done, I have not heard of it.
Felix Jakens, Head of Campaigns at Amnesty International UK, said: “We call on everyone involved in the race – drivers, managers, fans – to educate themselves and be prepared to speak out and speak out against Saudi human rights abuses. .
“With many sports organizations taking a principled stance on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the line that sports and politics don’t mix will not hold water.
“Despite claims that sport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will lead to positive changes, we are witnessing quite the opposite. The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is bad and getting worse.
“The Jeddah Grand Prix is another example of sport washing the bald face with the hope that the glitz and glamor of F1 coming to town will undermine these grotesque human rights abuses.”