Saudi Arabia uses sport and political events to cover up its human rights violations

The first Formula One Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia draws the world’s attention not only to the importance of the sport event itself but also to the fact that it is part of the Kingdom’s efforts to demonstrate its openness. Ostensibly, the celebrations are intended to amuse the public, but implicitly, the Saudi government intends to use them to whitewash the image of the country.

In this context, human rights organisations have pointed out that Saudi Arabia records one of the highest death rates in the world and the prosecution of dissidents every year. They have called on the participant artists to raise the profile of rights cases or not to participate in the event which aims to cover its violations.

Following the war against Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia has been trying to clear its record. Since 2017, the authorities have arbitrarily arrested dozens of political opponents, human rights activists, women’s rights activists and others. The authorities also subject some families of opponents to extensive collective punishment.

Sources confirm that shortly after the G-20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia, Saudi authority crackdown on freedom of expression, targeting human rights defenders, as well as opposition or critics. After an 85 percent reduction in executions recorded in 2020, at least 40 people were executed between January and July 2021, reflecting the fact that Saudi Arabia has history of using celebrities and exploiting international events to ignore its human rights violations.

Saudi Arabia uses sports and celebrities to polish its image and hide its bad human rights record.

The Guardian revealed that Saudi Arabia spent at least $1.5 billion on major sports activities to polish its image in front of the world. The “Guardian” continues that Saudi Arabia is trying to use the good reputation of the world’s best-loved sports stars to hide the human rights record of brutality, torture and murder. It added: “The world’s leading sports stars may not have asked to be part of a marketing plan to distract the world’s attention from brutality, but that’s what happens.”  The report also mentioned the failure of Saudi Arabia to offer $6 million to both Portuguese football stars Ronaldo and Argentinian Lionel Messi as a tourist destination for the Kingdom. Also, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s $400 million offer failed to buy the English football club Newcastle United; he later failed, as well, to buy the Manchester United club after a major rejection in England and convictions of Saudi Arabia for human rights violations.

The fiancée of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in 2018 by Saudi operatives at his country’s consulate in Istanbul, invited Canadian singer Justin Bieber to cancel his participation in a party on the side-lines of the Jeddah race.

Amnesty International’s UK campaign manager, Felix Jackins, said that Formula 1 must recognise that the Saudi Grand Prix of 2021 will be part of the ongoing sport bleaching efforts to cover up the country’s poor human rights record. He reiterated that Formula 1 group and the involved artists should use this occasion to publicly urge the Saudi authorities to release Saudi opponents and human rights activists who have been unfairly detained, including women detainees or those subject to restrictions on the right to drive, or to refuse to participate in Formula 1 events.

United Nations provides that rights norms also apply to businesses.

The United Nations Guidelines on Business and Human Rights provide that businesses, including international artists, celebrities and bidders, have a responsibility to avoid causing or contributing to adverse effects on human rights through their activities, to address such effects when they occur and to seek to prevent them. Therefore, Formula 1 policy also requires that it takes into account the human rights impact of its activities and exercise due diligence to prevent violations.

The recent establishment of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights in Geneva and the adoption, by FIFA, of an internal human rights governing body of policy show a significant shift in the understanding of the sporting world that human rights norms also apply to it.

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