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Human rights group accuses motorsport’s governing body of ‘suppressing drivers’ freedom of speech’

<i>Mark Thompson/Getty Images</i><br/>Human rights group BIRD warned the FIA's ban on political statements could affect drivers like Hamilton.
Getty Images
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Human rights group BIRD warned the FIA's ban on political statements could affect drivers like Hamilton.

By Sammy Mngqosini

A human rights group has accused motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, of “suppressing drivers’ freedom of speech,” following a ban on political statements ahead of the new Formula One season.

On Tuesday, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) questioned the governing body’s commitment to human rights in a letter addressed to FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, all participating teams and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton‘s representatives.

“We are writing to express our concerns over the FIA’s ban on political statements made by drivers introduced on 19 December 2022. The updated guidelines (Article 12.2.1.n) require both drivers and teams to obtain written permission before making any non-neutral political, religious and personal statements,” reads the letter sent by BIRD’s Director of Advocacy Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei.

Alwadaei continued to say that “the FIA’s recent move is clearly targeted at drivers like Lewis Hamilton who has used his platform to express support for Black Lives Matter and human rights in countries with problematic human rights records, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

“Throughout his career, none of the statements Lewis Hamilton has made can be considered any more political than the decision by the FIA to withdraw from racing in Russia in the last season due to its invasion of Ukraine.”

Hamilton, F1’s only Black driver, has repeatedly spoken out against racial injustice and social inequality and lent his support to human rights in countries accused of alleged human rights abuses.

The FIA’s 2023 International Sporting Code, Article 12.2.1.n states that making or displaying “political, religious and personal statements or comments” violates “the general principle of neutrality promoted by the FIA under its Statutes,” unless previously approved in writing by the FIA for International Competitions, or by the relevant National Sporting Authority.

An FIA spokesperson told CNN on Tuesday that the rules had been “updated in alignment with the political neutrality of sport as a universal fundamental ethical principle of the Olympic Movement, enshrined in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Code of Ethics.”

“The FIA shall promote the protection of human rights and human dignity, and refrain from manifesting discrimination on account of race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, language, religion, philosophical or political opinion, family situation or disability in the course of its activities and from taking any action in this respect,” the FIA spokesperson added.

“The FIA will focus on underrepresented groups in order to achieve a more balanced representation of gender and race and to create a more diverse and inclusive culture,” they concluded.

CNN has reached out to Formula One and Hamilton for comment, meanwhile, Mercedes declined to comment.

In the letter, Alwadaei also questioned the FIA’s commitment to human rights with BIRD saying that previous discussions with the organization “ended without a human rights policy in place and it is not clear whether this is still something the FIA is working towards.”

The first race of the new Formula One season will be the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 5.

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