Controversy erupts over Formula 1's $900m Saudi Arabia deal

Chris Young
·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
Saudi Arabian politicians and business figures announce the hosting of an F1 Grand Prix.
Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki and Khalid bin Sultan al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, announce the hosting of an F1 race in the Middle-Eastern nation. (Photo by AMER HILABI/AFP via Getty Images)

Formula One has been criticised by fans after announcing the sport will host a race in Saudi Arabia during the 2021 season.

A 10-year deal has been struck between F1 and the Saudi Arabian kingdom to host races in the coastal city of Jeddah, before a purpose-built track at Qiddiyah is completed in 2023.

'SO SORRY': F1 fans gutted over 'devastating' photo

'CAN’T BELIEVE IT’: Ricciardo soars in 'crazy' Emilia Romagna GP

The Middle Eastern nation has reportedly agreed to a hosting fee worth roughly $900 milliom (AUD) over the course of the decade-long agreement.

However, the lucrative deal has been heavily criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, as well as a good chunk of the sport’s fans, over Saudi Arabia’s alleged abuses of human rights.

The most notable in recent history was the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October, 2018.

Conflicting reports about the nature of his death soon followed, with Saudi officials attributing his death to a ‘rogue operation’ conducted by intelligence officials trying to convince him to return to the country, while the Turkish government maintains Khashoggi’s death was ordered by the Saudi government.

Human Rights Watch director Minky Worden told the Guardian hosting major sporting events was part of a deliberate attempt by the Saudi government to brush over their human rights record.

“Sporting bodies like Formula One and the FIA cannot ignore the fact they and fans are being used for sportswashing,” she said.

“It is part of a cynical strategy to distract from Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, detention and torture of human rights defenders and women’s rights activists.”

Formula One defends controversial Saudi Arabia deal

Senior figures in Formula One, as well as the group who owns the racing category, defended the deal as part of an effort to be a ‘positive force’ in the broader world.

Liberty Media, the parent company of F1, said through a spokesperson that they had made their views on human rights ‘very clear’ to all partners and race hosts.

“For decades Formula One has worked hard to be a positive force everywhere it races, including bringing economic, social, and cultural benefits,” Liberty Media’s statement read.

There has been a mixed reaction to Formula One's announcement of a 10-year agreement to host races in Saudi Arabia, with many concerned by the nations history of human rights abuses. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
There has been a mixed reaction to Formula One's announcement of a 10-year agreement to host races in Saudi Arabia, with many concerned by the nations history of human rights abuses. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

“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.

“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.”

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.