Formula One race car world champion Lewis Hamilton plans to continue standing up for LGBTQ+ rights in countries where LGBTQ+ people face persecution from their governments.
The sports league has a race in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this weekend.
The British racer called Saudi Arabia’s laws “terrifying” when it came to human rights, according to The Guardian. He also repeated his comments demanding the Formula One league do more to address the human rights violations of countries connected to the league.
On Wednesday, the outlet reported that a group of human rights groups wrote to Formula One, blaming the sports group for supporting the Saudi government’s use of sports to draw attention away from its human rights record — a practice known as sportwashing. Human Rights Watch cited the country’s “brutal crackdown on peaceful dissidents,” and Amnesty International said Formula One drivers should speak out more, especially to draw attention to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people since same-sex relations are illegal in Saudi Arabia and punishable by flogging or prison.
“Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn’t say I do,” Hamilton said. “But it’s not my choice to be here, the sport has taken the choice to be here.”
This weekend’s race is the first to be held in Saudi Arabia. There are two more rounds to determine the league’s champion with Max Verstappen currently in the lead.
“Whilst we are here it’s important we do try to raise awareness,” Hamilton told The Guardian. “In the last race you saw the [rainbow] helmet that I wore. I will wear that again here and in the next race [in Abu Dhabi] because it is an issue. If anyone wants to take time to read what the law is for the LGBT+ community, it is pretty terrifying. There are changes that need to be made.”
Hamilton’s remarks will damage Saudi’s heavy investments in sporting events in the country. The Guardian notes that this is the first time Hamilton, a global sports figure, has been so direct in saying he felt uncomfortable in a country.
“The sport and we are duty-bound to make sure we try to raise awareness for certain issues we have seen, particularly human rights in these countries that we are going to,” he said.
Hamilton won’t be the only racer supporting LGBTQ+ rights this weekend. Sebastian Vettel will be wearing rainbow sneakers. He also helped organize a session on Thursday for women and girl drivers. Women were only given the right to drive in 2018.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, supported Hamilton's comments.
“It’s extremely encouraging to see Lewis Hamilton speaking out on women’s and LGBTI rights in Saudi Arabia like this,” he said. “It’s high-profile interventions like Lewis’s that help undo some of the sportwashing effects of Saudi-hosted events such as the Jeddah Grand Prix.”
Hamilton introduced the rainbow helmet at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix on November 21. He won that race.