Lewis Hamilton’s Dictators and Rainbow Helmet

On Sunday, the Formula 1 circus presented its very first event in Saudi Arabia. Before the lights turned green, we even had images of Prince Mohammed ben Salman Al-Saud, comfortably installed in his dressing room.

According to the American intelligence services, it was directly linked to the assassination of the journalist of the Washington post Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. This dictator is also held responsible for a bombing campaign that caused a serious famine in Yemen.

Even though women recently won the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, the country still jails feminists. In addition, the Saudi penal system allows the death penalty for minors or for those who criticize the regime in power. Homosexuality is also punishable by flogging and imprisonment.

Two F1 cars drive on a circuit surrounded by low walls and security fences.

The drivers drove on the Jeddah circuit at the end of the week.

Photo: Getty Images / Dan Mullan

The daily The Guardian pointed out this week that a Saudi intellectual, Hassan Al-Malik, faces the death penalty for expressing an opinion on Muslim history and for possessing books not authorized by the regime.

But hey, it looks like the American company that owns F1, Liberty Media, could hardly turn a blind eye to the $ 650 million the Saudi government was willing to pay to run races for 10 years.

Earlier this week, several organizations questioned the leaders of the Formula 1 circus as well as some pilots about Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record.

Once again, Lewis Hamilton was one of the few to come to the front and say, without hesitation, very uncomfortable driving his car in this country.

In protest and in support of the LBGTQ + community, Hamilton wore a rainbow painted helmet.

The problem, however, is that the Briton is forced to wear this helmet more and more often.

A helmeted pilot waves to the crowd with his right hand.

Lewis Hamilton wears a helmet in support of the LGBTQ + community.

Photo: Getty Images / Pool

In the previous race, the F1 circus made its first stop in Qatar, where homosexuality is also considered illegal and where migrant workers are abused and often live in conditions bordering on slavery.

Just two weeks ago, two Norwegian journalists were arrested and their equipment seized after they visited a construction site for a stadium that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

And next Sunday, for the last grand prix of the season, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen will compete for the Drivers’ Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Again, this is a country where political dissidents are imprisoned, tortured, or simply disappear.

If we add this spectacular final stretch of the season with the fact that F1’s 2021 calendar also included stops in Bahrain, Azerbaijan and Russia (China has been deadlocked since the start of the pandemic), it is quite clear that the multinationals admired as Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault (Alpine), Red Bull and Aston Martin do not feel the slightest embarrassment in associating themselves with regimes which violate, in full view of all, human rights.

The last weeks of 2021 are therefore far from being glorious for several major sports organizations.

The PGA American and European, in particular, are engaged in a real arm wrestling game with several of their star players.

Attracted by the scholarships and the huge fees offered to them, they are keen to participate in a tournament in Saudi Arabia next February.

The Saudi government, which seeks to polish its international image by getting involved in all kinds of sports projects, has the ambition to launch a world golf circuit in order to compete with the American and European circuits.

For every Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm or Brooks Koepka, who refuse to become instruments of propaganda, there are several others, like Tommy Fleetwood, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, who tell themselves that the checks offered outweigh any other consideration.

As the year 2021 draws to a close, the Peng Shuai case remains unresolved in China.

The CEO of the WTA, Steve Simon, was a real hero last Wednesday when he decided to suspend the presentation of all women’s professional tournaments in China.

Simon’s decision, whose leadership I myself have underlined, appears to be a very clear departure from the conciliatory tone adopted by almost all of the major sports circuits or organizations with the Chinese regime. It may be the fall of a first domino. Perhaps with a sword in the water. Time will tell.

A woman poses for photographers.

Shuai Peng poses for photographers at a WTA reception.

Photo: Getty Images / Eamonn M. McCormack

When you think about it a bit, the WTA waited for one of his athletes to get into an awkward position before drawing his line in the sand.

Before Peng Shuai exposed a sexual assault a few weeks ago, WTA leaders had no problem holding 9 or 10 tournaments a year in China.

Yet according to Human Rights Watch, repression has never been so strong in this country since the massacre of Tiananmen Square in 1989. Several governments consider in particular that the Uighurs there are victims of a genocide. And according to several reports, women in this minority are forcibly sterilized.

And the leaders of the International Olympic Committee, for their part, behave exactly like their F1 counterparts. They are preparing to present their Winter Games in Beijing and continue to practice soft diplomacy with the Chinese government and look away hoping that their show is not too disrupted in less than two months.

In life, actions speak louder than words.

When you take a step back and look in which direction a huge part of the sports world is heading, it’s frankly discouraging.

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