Formula One confirmed it will go to Saudi Arabia next year as part of a long-term deal believed to be worth £500million.
But the announcement was met by outrage from Amnesty International, which called on Lewis Hamilton and his fellow drivers to condemn the Gulf kingdom’s human rights record.
Amnesty hit out at the decision, calling it an attempt to sportswash their ‘abysmal’ human rights record following the state’s recent links with Newcastle United and other high profile sports.
Formula One have announced they will race in Saudi Arabia for the first time next season, pictured above is the start of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix held at Imola in Italy on Sunday
‘A Saudi Grand Prix in 2021 is just part of extensive ongoing efforts by the Saudi authorities to sportswash their abysmal human rights record,’ Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of campaigns, said.
‘With critics of the government either jailed, exiled or hounded into silence, the Saudi authorities have pursued a twin-track approach of crushing human rights while throwing large amounts of money at glittering sporting events.
‘It isn’t just motor racing – it’s golf, boxing, tennis, horse racing and of course the attempt to buy Newcastle United Football Club.’
In addition the organisation has called on Lewis Hamilton and his fellow drivers to speak out against the race, which is set to be pencilled in for the final weekend of November.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has previously been linked with a bid to buy Newcastle United before the potential takeover collapsed earlier in the summer
‘In the lead-up to a race in Jeddah, we would urge all F1 drivers, owners and teams to consider speaking out about the human rights situation in the country, including by expressing solidarity with jailed human rights defenders.’
The FIA, the governing body, are a strictly non-political organisation, so take no position on Saudi Arabia’s restrictive culture, just as do not involve themselves in the internal affairs of other host countries.
But Liberty Media, the sport’s owners, welcomed the new Saudi race, which follows Aramco, the state-owned oil giant company, having already concluding a global sponsorship deal with F1 that started this season.
A spokesman for Liberty said: ‘For decades Formula One has worked hard to be a positive force everywhere it races, including bringing economic, social, and cultural benefits. Sports like Formula One are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.
Amnesty International have called on drivers including Lewis Hamilton to speak out on the state’s record in regards to human rights
‘We take our responsibilities very seriously and have made our position on human rights and other issues clear to all our partners and host countries who commit to respect human rights in the way their events are hosted and delivered.’
The Saudi state has come under severe criticism recently away from sport following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Khashoggi’s killers described him as ‘an animal to be sacrificed’ in secret recordings taken inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul minutes before he died.
Khashoggi, a former Saudi regime insider turned critic, had gone to the consulate that day in order to sign marriage papers so he could wed his partner, Hatice Cengiz. Instead he was dragged into a back room where he was killed while she waited for him outside.
MAJOR SPORTS EVENTS SHIPPED TO SAUDI
F1 is just the latest in a string of major sporting events that Saudi Arabia has snapped up in recent years in an attempt to clean up their image and poor human rights record:
Spanish Super Cup final – Real Madrid beat their bitter rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties in Jeddah.
Joshua v Ruiz II – Anthony Joshua reclaimed his IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight titles in the ‘Clash on the Dunes’ last year.
Anthony Joshua reclaimed his world titles in the ‘Clash of the Dunes’ with Andy Ruiz
Saudi International – European Tour -Rory McIlroy has ruled out competing in golf’s visit to Saudi this year, confirming there was a ‘morality’ behind his decision as he turned down a £1.9m appearance fee.
Khan v Dib – Before the ‘Clash on the Dunes’, Saudi Arabia had fronted Amir Khan’s WBC international welterweight title fight against Billy Dib during July 2019. Khan side-stepped Amnesty International’s criticism of the fight and claimed Saudi was undergoing social change. He took home a £7m purse.
WWE’s ‘Crown Jewel’ – Tyson Fury made his WWE debut in Saudi Arabia last year, flooring Braun Strowman to ‘win’ by count-out at the King Saud University Stadium. Amnesty were again critical of the hosts’ ‘abysmal human rights record’.
Supercoppa Italiana – The Spanish FA are not the first to take their equivalent of the Community Shield to Saudi. Italy have hosted their version there for the last two seasons. Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winner for Juventus this time last year.
Cristiano Ronaldo holds the Italian Super Cup after Juventus’ win in January last year
Saudi Cup – The world’s richest horse race will be held in Saudi Arabia during February 2020. The £15.2m Saudi Cup will be run over nine furlongs on dirt at Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Racetrack.
Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters – Even snooker is getting in on the act now. October will see the first edition of a 10-year partnership of tournaments with a top prize of £500,000 matching that of the World Championship.
Saudi Arabia has admitted Khashoggi’s killing was a premeditated act carried out by government agents, but said they were ‘rogue elements’ who acted without official authorisation.
Regarding the grand prix to be staged next season, It is understood the ultra-rich Gulf state will pay £50million a year to host the event for at least the next decade as part of a £500million deal.
As Sportsmail revealed, the first race will be staged in 2021 at a road circuit on the Jeddah corniche, which runs alongside the Red Sea, while a bespoke track is built at the 130-square mile ‘entertainment city’ rising in Qiddiya, south-west of the capital Riyadh.
That new 100,000-capacity facility will then become the permanent home of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, from 2023 or 2024.
The street race in Jeddah will be a night event, such as one held in Singapore (above)
Formula One joins other major sports such as football, golf, tennis, cycling, horseracing and boxing in travelling to the kingdom. ‘The Clash of the Dunes’ fight between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jnr last year was perhaps the biggest single event staged there so far.
This cultivation of sport is part of ‘Vision 2030’ — the state’s attempt to branch away from reliance on oil revenues, with Qiddiya a central pillar of that endeavour.
Not every sports star, though, has accepted the petrodollars on offer, with Rory McIlroy turning down his invitation to compete in the European Tour’s Saudi International last December – reflecting reservations over the country’s human rights record.
Addressing those concerns, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi sports minister, told Sportsmail: ‘Saudi Arabia has been criticised for being closed off from the world but now we are opening up. We make sure we work to international guidelines. Sport is part of a strategy we have to deliver for the good of the people of the country.
‘Everyone will be welcome to the race. F1 has a big following in the kingdom and this builds on that momentum.
‘We are giving visas for tourism and so on, so we hope people will have a better understanding of Saudi Arabia in the future. Sport has a role to play in our development, getting people active and exposing them to several sports.’
According to government figures, the Saudi population is much more active than five years ago, with female participation in sport having risen by 149 per cent between 2015 and 2019.
The rest of next year’s calendar will be announced in the next few weeks.