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FIA F1 human rights LGBTQ+ Ben Sulayem Hamilton Vettel diversity and inclusion causes issues

FIA seeks to put a stop to F1 drivers using their platform and influence to champion causes

FIA President, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, has banned F1 drivers - and other competitors - from a range of statements without prior consent

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The FIA has taken the drastic step of banning “political, religious and personal statements” by those competing in racing categories they preside over, including F1.

FIA F1 human rights LGBTQ+ Ben Sulayem Hamilton Vettel diversity and inclusion causes issues
Sebastian Vettel wears a t-shirt and mask protesting Hungary’s questionable LGBTQ+ rights record ahead of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix. (Image Credit: @Openly on Twitter)

In effect, this means that F1 drivers, who now wield an influential global platform, will be prohibited from championing causes they hold dear, at events – including race weekends – without prior approval from the FIA.

By adding a new article to the International Sporting Code (ISC), the FIA have clamped down on the increasing prevalence of such statements and messages by drivers at the pinnacle of motorsport. The key passage is the newly created clause n of Article 12.2.1.:

“The general making and displaying political, religious and personal statements or comments notably in violation of the general principle of neutrality promoted by the FIA under its Statutes, unless previously approved in writing by the FIA for International Competitions, or by the relevant ASN for National Competitions within their jurisdiction.”

In addition to this, the subsequent clause also warns of “failure to comply with the instructions of the FIA regarding the appointment and participation of persons during official ceremonies at any Competition counting towards a FIA Championship.”

How did we get to this point?

In recent years, F1 drivers have started to more outwardly support causes they believe in and highlight global issues of inequality, including racism, LGBTQ+ rights and climate change.

The catalyst for this was the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Following criticism from Lewis Hamilton on F1’s silence over Black Lives Matter, We Race As One was launched. During the pre-race taking of the knee, Hamilton wore t-shirts with slogans dedicated to increasing awareness of racism and inequality.

However, when he took to the podium after winning the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix in a top saying “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor”, which he had also worn before the grand prix, the FIA stepped in and swiftly banned drivers from wearing anything other than their race suit done to the top for podium ceremonies and post-race interviews.

Hamilton has also been joined by other drivers, namely Sebastian Vettel, in championing LGBTQ+ rights in countries with questionable records on the issue, such as nations in the Middle East and Hungary. Vettel was given a reprimand for his “Same Love” rainbow t-shirt at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix. Both have used rainbow helmets at multiple races over the last three F1 seasons.

FIA F1 human rights LGBTQ+ Ben Sulayem Hamilton Vettel diversity and inclusion causes issues
Ahead of the 2022 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, the F1 field showed their support for Ukraine and condemnation of Russia’s illegal invasion. (Image Credit: @lance_stroll on Twitter)

Over the weekend of the 2022 Canadian Grand Prix, Vettel used a helmet that stated “Stop mining tar sands” and “Canada’s climate crime.” This move quickly drew criticism from politicians in Canada. He would not go on to use the helmet during the race.

What is the FIA and Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s stance?

Mohammed Ben Sulayem assumed the FIA presidency in December 2021. A few months after taking over the role, he conducted an interview with GrandPrix247 during the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix. When asked about what motorsport should NOT become, he said:

“Niki Lauda and Alain Prost only cared about driving. Now, Vettel drives a rainbow bicycle, Lewis [Hamilton] is passionate about human rights and Norris addresses mental health.

“Everybody has the right to think. To me, it is about deciding whether we should impose our believes [sic] in something over the sport all the time.”

He later had to walk back the remarks and reaffirm the FIA’s – and his – commitments to diversity and inclusion.

At the time of the clarification, Sky Sports News reported that the FIA insisted that Ben Sulayem was “in no way” attempting to halt the activism of F1 drivers.

However, a mere six months later, the addition of Article 12.2.1. to the ISC does precisely that. Whether this development will have any substantive impact or manage to prevent F1 drivers from highlighting human rights issues remains to be seen.

But, for now, the move has been widely condemned on social media and within the motorsport community. It is viewed as a gross overreach by the FIA and a fundamental misunderstanding of the role that athletes play in contemporary society.

Featured Image Credit: @YahooSports on Twitter

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