‘One of the worst’: Lewis Hamilton criticises Qatar over human rights

  • World champion speaks out as Qatar prepares for first F1 GP
  • Mercedes driver says of venues: ‘These places need scrutiny’

Lewis Hamilton believes sportspeople are duty bound to speak out on human rights matters in the countries they visit. With Qatar hosting its first Formula One Grand Prix this weekend and facing new allegations of worker exploitation and abuse in its preparations for next year’s football World Cup, Hamilton insisted he would hold the sport to account for the places it chooses to race.

F1 is making its debut at the Losail circuit in Doha with the championship fight between Mercedes’ Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finely poised. However focus in Qatar once more fell on human rights issues. Workers within the state have claimed that reforms to the country’s restrictive kafala labour sponsorship system have been ineffective while human rights groups continue to highlight oppressive male guardianship policies as well as discriminatory laws against women and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Hamilton has repeatedly spoken out on F1’s need to address such problems in the countries it visits and did so again in Qatar.

“We’re aware there are issues in these places that we’re going to,” he said. “But of course [Qatar] seems to be deemed as one of the worst in this part of the world. As sports go to these places, they are duty bound to raise awareness for these issues. These places need scrutiny. Equal rights is a serious issue.”

The Danish FA has announced its intent to criticise human rights abuses at the World Cup, seven-times world drivers’ champion Hamilton believed more collective action was required.

He added: “If we are coming to these places, we need to be raising the profile of the situation. One person can only make a certain amount of small difference but collectively we can have a bigger impact. Do I wish that more sportsmen and women spoke out on these issues? Yes.

“It’s down to whether you decide to educate yourself and hold the sport more accountable and make sure the sport is actually doing something when they go to those places.”

Verstappen is 14 points ahead of Hamilton in the world championship but that lead was in doubt overnight because of the incident at turn four of Sunday’s Brazilian GP, when the Dutchman squeezed his rival wide as the world champion attempted to overtake. Hamilton went on to win and it was adjudged a racing incident.

However this week on-board footage of the incident was released and Mercedes requested the stewards review it to assess whether Verstappen was at fault. Having met representatives from both Mercedes and Red Bull and deliberated until 9pm local time in Qatar on Thursday, the FIA announced it was still considering the matter and that its decision would be published on Friday.

Should it agree that new “significant and relevant” elements have come to light it will reopen the case and if it finds Verstappen guilty of deliberately pushing Hamilton off track, it can impose a penalty. This could be a grid penalty in Sunday’s race, likely to be three places, or a five-second time penalty added to his finish in Brazil. The latter would demote him to third and he would drop three points, with three races remaining going into this weekend.


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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