On Sunday, December 5, Saudi Arabia hosts the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix for the first time. Justin Bieber, with A $ AP Rocky and Jason Derulo, will headline a concert at the of the race.
This concert announcement, however, has come under heavy criticism as critics from all corners of the world ask Bieber and the other artists to call off their appearances.
Additionally, several human rights organizations continue to press for F1’s decision to hold races in Saudi Arabia in the first place. Here is an overview of the situation.
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Why do people want the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix concert canceled?
Saudi Arabia has a long and recent history of human rights violations. Women activists and journalists are among the groups most targeted by the Saudi government, with some being killed or locked up amid reported abuses including torture, illegal detentions and unfair trials, as reported by the CBC.
The country’s continuing history with repeated human rights violations has spurred repeated calls for action to quash high-profile events in Saudi Arabia including, but not limited to, F1.
For several years, Saudi Arabia has hosted sporting events or concerts that are known to distract people around the world from attention to government human rights injustices. The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix concert, for example, has been called “sports laundering” or “whitewashing” of the country’s record of human rights violations.
“I think what is clear is that Justin Bieber and other celebrities are being used by Saudi Arabia to hijack the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator,” said Farida Deif, the Canadian Director of Human Rights Watch, via The Current.
All over Bieber’s hometown of Los Angeles, trucks and vans recently traveled with electronic signs to the side, begging Bieber to cancel his show.
The fiancée of the late Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi – killed by the Saudi regime in 2018 – wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled “Please, Justin Bieber, don’t play for the regime that killed my fiance “. In the play, Hatice Cengiz begs Bieber and other artists to cancel their events in Saudi Arabia.
“Cancel your December 5 performance in Saudi Arabia. This is a unique opportunity to send a powerful message to the world that your name and talent will not be used to restore the reputation of a regime that kills its critics,” said Cengiz said, via The Washington Post. “Do not sing for the murderers of my beloved Jamal. Please speak out and condemn his murderer, Mohammed bin Salman. Your voice will be heard by millions of people.”
Saudi Arabia spends big on big-name sporting events
This weekend’s run and accompanying spectacle continue an ongoing plan adopted by the Saudi government.
In early 2021, Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman was estimated to spend $ 1.5 billion for this “sportswashing” by launching his Vision 2030 plan according to a report by the human rights organization Grant Liberty. By hosting more events in Saudi Arabia, from golf and tennis tournaments to chess championships to high-stakes horse racing, Salman hopes to reduce the country’s dependence on oil exports. This plan, however, has received much criticism from human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch.
Thus, the F1 race will not be the first major event held in Saudi Arabia recently, and it probably will not be the last. The country has hosted the Spanish Super Cup soccer tournament twice in the past three years, as well as a Saudi international golf tournament since 2019.
“A celebration of human success in sport [could] distract from the serious human rights violations occurring in your country, ”Deif said.
Other celebrities recently canceled their events in Saudi Arabia, including Nicki Minaj and John Cena, due to similar reactions.
Concerts performed by Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey and 50 Cent, to name a few, have also been held in Saudi Arabia recently, all of which have received similar reactions from fans.
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What did Formula 1 say about the criticism?
Formula 1 chief Stefano Domenicali was asked about his thoughts on the potential cancellation of events in countries like Saudi Arabia that have a history of human rights violations. Domenicali has said he has no plans to cancel these F1 events as he believes their presence is helping to advance the abandonment of human rights violations.
“Such a big change cannot happen overnight. It is a cultural change that will take time,” Domenicali said. “But the timing will be speeded up by the fact that big events are here. And Formula 1 will play an important role in that.”
Domenicali said he believed that canceling the events would only have negative results and that to help end injustices Saudi Arabia needed an international sports presence.
“I think the spotlight we wear will be good for the will and wishes for change that these countries are showing. I don’t think shutting down countries and saying we don’t want to be there will help the situation improve. fact, it will be the opposite, “Deomenicali said.” It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, but it is certain that what we do and what we approve is going in the right direction. “
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Lewis Hamilton on Saudi Arabia
Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton has spoken about his first competition in Saudi Arabia this weekend. As a gay F1 racer, he said he didn’t feel comfortable competing in the country, which has strict laws against LGBTQ + people open.
“Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn’t say yes,” Hamilton told reporters Thursday. “But that was not my choice. Our sport has chosen to be here and whether it’s fair or not, I think while we’re here it’s always important to do some outreach work.”
Hamilton still plans to wear his pride flag helmet, even though homosexuality is illegal there. He hopes this awareness will bring change to the country.
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What did human rights organizations say?
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both released statements about the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend, adding that the event contributes to the country’s plan to “sportswash”.
“If they do not voice their concerns about the serious abuses committed by Saudi Arabia, Formula 1 and its performers risk supporting the Saudi government’s costly efforts to whitewash its image despite a significant increase in repression over the years. years, “Michael Page, HRW’s deputy director for the Middle East, said in a statement.
As HRW called on F1 and musical artists to take action, Amnesty International echoed and then added that Saudi Arabia should make changes if it is to be seen as unproblematic as it is trying to be.
“If the authorities want to be seen differently, they must immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been jailed for peacefully expressing their views, lift travel bans and impose a moratorium on the death penalty,” the statement said. ‘Amnesty International.