‘Lights out for human rights’: F1 angers fans & activists after Qatar added to calendar, new 10-year deal agreed

‘Lights out for human rights’: F1 angers fans & activists after Qatar added to calendar, new 10-year deal agreed

Formula 1 fans have reacted with anger after a deal was announced to stage races in Qatar, which will step in to fill a slot in this year’s calendar in November while also signing a 10-year arrangement.

This year’s race at the Losail International Circuit in Doha on November 19-21 will replace the Australian GP, which has been unable to go ahead due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The event will also kick-start the first of three races to end the 2021 season which will be staged across the Arabian Peninsula, with the Saudi Arabian GP and the Abu Dhabi GP scheduled to take place in early December.

A statement from F1 said: “There was a strong will from Qatar to be helpful to F1, and in the course of this process, the vision for a longer partnership was discussed and agreed for 10 years.”

The statement added that Qatar views hosting races as a way to showcase the country after the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

F1 President and CEO Stefano Domenicali was full of praise, saying: “We are very pleased to welcome Qatar to the Formula 1 calendar this season and for the longer term from 2023.

“We have shown that we can continue to adapt and there is huge interest in our sport and the hope from many locations to have a Grand Prix.”

Abdulrahman Al-Mannai, who is President of the Qatar Motor & Motorcycle Federation, said: “This is a very special day for Qatar Motorsport and our nation’s ambitions as a host of major sporting events.

“I’m very proud that we’ve been able to support Formula 1 by stepping in and hosting a race in our country in such a short time frame, while also securing a ground-breaking long-term deal with F1.”

After this season's race, Qatar will take a break from the calendar next year due to the football World Cup, but will continue with a 10-year deal from 2023 at a location yet to be decided.

While the officials welcomed the announcement, the same cannot be said of some fans who took to social media to question the decision to award Qatar the race.

Many pointed to the country’s human rights record and the allegations of thousands of migrant worker deaths during the construction of infrastructure for next year’s World Cup.

“And its lights out and away with human rights,” read one popular tweet.

Many also poked fun at F1’s hashtag of WeRaceAsOne as being meaningless, instead saying “we race for money.”

“Another highly oppressive state, and there’s already a lot of tracks in the Middle East. Of course most countries have done terrible things, but just look at their free speech and workers' rights,” raged another fan on Twitter.

Another countered that argument by saying: “OK let’s cancel the GP’s or ban them in every country where there’s been restrictions on free speech and workers’ rights. Silverstone [UK] will go first, then France, Germany, China, Japan, Italy, Australia, Austria, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Hungary. Where should we have them?”

Amnesty International has questioned the decision and called on drivers to speak out on the human rights issues in the country.

A statement from Amnesty said: “It’s no secret that rich countries in the Middle East see top-level sport as a means to rebrand and sportswash their images, and a Grand Prix in Qatar would be more of the same.

“Drivers and their teams should be prepared to speak out about human rights in Qatar in the lead-up to this race, doing their bit to break the spell of sportwashing and image-management.”

Formula 1 responded to the criticism by saying: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and have made our position on rights clear to all our partners and host countries who commit to respect our responsibilities in the way their events are hosted and delivered.”

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