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Saudi Arabia GP boss open to Lewis Hamilton meeting over human rights concerns

Saudi Arabia GP boss open to Lewis Hamilton meeting over human rights concerns
© Reuters
The first Grand Prix is due to be staged in the country later this year.

The boss of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix says he is open to meeting with Lewis Hamilton to allay any fears the seven-time world champion has about the country's human rights record.

Formula One and Saudi Arabia have struck a 10-year deal, with the first Grand Prix to be staged in Jeddah on December 5 – the penultimate round of this season's schedule.

Motor racing follows golf, tennis, horse racing and boxing in heading to the Arab kingdom, but F1 has attracted criticism for staging events in countries with poor records on human rights – notably China, Russia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and now Saudi Arabia.

Campaigners have accused the Middle Eastern country of trying to "sportswash" its human rights record.

Speaking last year, Hamilton said: "The human rights issue in so many of the places that we go to is a consistent and a massive problem.

"This year has shown how important it is, not only for us as a sport, but for all the sports around the world, to utilise their platforms to push for change."

Asked if he was prepared to sit down with Hamilton, Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, and promoter of the Jeddah race, said: "For sure. I met with a couple of drivers at Silverstone – and Lewis Hamilton was not one of them – and they addressed their concerns.

Lewis Hamilton is eight points behind championship leader Max Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton is eight points behind championship leader Max Verstappen following his victory at the British Grand Prix earlier this month (Tim Goode/PA)

"I spoke with them openly and I said, 'listen, I am not going to say anything. You come to Saudi Arabia and you see it. If you want to come before the race you can judge by yourself and meet with the local people and you can have your opinions.'

"We are confident about our progress [on human rights] and where we are going so we have no issues.  It is very important to us, not just Formula One, but our Kingdom and the people who live in Saudi Arabia.

"I know we have maybe some different things that can happen, and other places are not the same as here, but the quality of life in Saudi Arabia is an initiative from the government.

"We work closely with F1 so we are aligned in our missions; the Saudi Arabia mission and the F1 obligations for human rights, and things are progressing really well between us."

F1 launched the We Race As One initiative in 2020 to tackle some of the major issues in the sport and the wider world.

A number of rounds following the sport's summer break in August are in doubt amid the coronavirus pandemic, but Prince Khalid added: "We are in a very strong position.

"We have low cases, 70 per cent of people in Saudi Arabia have been vaccinated, so for us, there are no worries."

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