Days before Formula One's inaugural race in Saudi Arabia, star driver Lewis Hamilton questioned the kingdom's human rights record and expressed reservations about racing in the Gulf nation.
Saudi Arabia will host the Grand Prix on Dec. 5 at a brand-new track in the country's second-largest city, Jeddah. Advocacy organizations have accused the monarchy of "sportswashing" to divert attention from human rights violations.
"Do I feel at ease here?" "I would not assert that I do," Hamilton stated. "However, I did not choose to be here. The sport has chosen to be here."
During last month's Qatar Grand Prix, the British Mercedes driver wore a rainbow-flagged helmet with the phrase "Love is Love" to protest Qatar's prohibition of homosexuality. Hamilton stated that he intends to re-wear the helmet in Saudi Arabia, which similarly criminalizes homosexual acts.
"If anyone takes the time to read the law governing the LGBT+ community, it is quite frightening," he remarked. "There are numerous changes that need to be made, and I believe our sport can do more."
Human Rights Watch asked race drivers, teams, and participants in Sunday's inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to openly demand the release of imprisoned activists, particularly those imprisoned for advocating for women's freedom to drive.
"The Saudi government is making a concerted effort to conceal its heinous human rights violations behind public spectacles and sporting events," said Michael Page, the rights organization's deputy Middle East director.
"Unless Formula One and participating performers express concern about Saudi Arabia's serious abuses, they risk bolstering the Saudi government's well-funded efforts to whitewash its image despite a significant increase in repression in recent years," he added.
Justin Bieber, a Canadian musical sensation, is performing in Jeddah on Sunday. Last month, the fiancee of dead Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi pleaded with Bieber to postpone his performance rather than use his platform to "restore the reputation of a regime that murders its critics."