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Entertainment Lewis Hamilton urges F1 to have 'uncomfortable discussions' amid Saudi GP controversy

17:11  04 december  2021
17:11  04 december  2021 Source:   express.co.uk

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Mercedes world champion Lewis Hamilton is urging Formula One to do more to force changes in countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar if they're going to continue racing there. For the second race in the row, Hamilton announced he will continue to wear the Pride flag on his helmet for the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to raise awareness over LGBTQ+ rights.

The event has faced criticism from many organisations, with Human Rights Watch expressing their concern to F1 chiefs, saying they feel it is "a deliberate strategy to deflect attention from its pervasive human rights abuses" by holding a race in Jeddah.

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The organisation requested a meeting with the FIA president Jean Todt, expressing that they felt the sport was "bolstering the Saudi government's well-funded efforts to whitewash its image despite a significant increase in repression over the last few years".

It is illegal in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to be in a same-sex relationship and Saudi remains prohibitive on what women can and cannot do in the country.

"Me just wearing a helmet isn't going to change the world," Hamilton told Sky Sports. "But I hope that whether it's kids here are more aware of it, kids back home are more aware of the scenarios in these places.

"Maybe kids back home in England will be studying it more at school and learning more about inclusivity.

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Lewis Hamilton © GETTY Lewis Hamilton

"I believe everyone should have equal rights, freedom of speech, freedom of movement.

"And there are places where that's not allowed. Places such as here where the LGBT community, there's prison time, the death penalty, and restrictions for people being themselves. And I don't believe in that.

"Religions can change, rules can change, rulers can change those things... they have the power to.

"We don't choose where we're going, others have chosen for us to be here so we have to make sure we apply the pressure on them to make sure that they are doing right by the people in those places.

"Spark the conversation. Creating that uncomfortable discussion that is needed in those places."

Hamilton said he, and the sport, are "duty-bound" to raise awareness, admitting he was not comfortable racing in Saudi Arabia amid their poor human rights record.

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Hamilton, a vocal advocate of equality and diversity, admitted he received a "warm welcome" from locals on the ground, but admitted he did have issues with motorsport racing there.

"I can't pretend to be the most knowledgeable and have the deepest of understanding of someone that has grown up in the community here that is heavily affected by certain rules and the regime," he said.

"Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn't say I do, but it's not my choice to be here.

  Lewis Hamilton urges F1 to have 'uncomfortable discussions' amid Saudi GP controversy © EXPRESS

"The sport has taken the choice to be here and whether it's right or wrong, I think whilst we are here, again, I feel it is important to raise awareness.

"For example at the last race [in Qatar] you saw the helmet that I wore, I will wear that again here and in the next race because that is an issue and is a law, so if anyone wants to take the time to go and read what law is for the LGBTQ+ community is pretty terrifying."

Qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix takes place at 5pm GMT on Saturday, with the main event getting underway at 5.30pm on Sunday.

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