Lewis Hamilton Criticizes 'Terrifying' Anti-Gay Laws in Saudi Arabia Ahead of F1 Race

Adam WellsDecember 2, 2021

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - DECEMBER 02: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP looks on in the Paddock during previews ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit on December 02, 2021 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Formula One star Lewis Hamilton is voicing his concerns about competing in Saudi Arabia ahead of Sunday's race in Jeddah. 

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Hamilton called Saudi Arabia's anti-LGBTQ+ laws "terrifying" and said that he doesn't feel comfortable being in the country. 

"Do I feel comfortable here? I wouldn't say I do," he said. "But it's not my choice to be here, the sport has taken the choice to be here."

This weekend marks the debut of F1's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

In December 2020, F1 announced a 10-year deal worth about $50 million per year with Saudi Arabia to run an annual road race in the country. 

Chris Medland of Racer.com noted in July that organizers of the Saudi Arabia event have "faced a number of questions about the country's human rights record, and the sport itself has also been criticized for the juxtaposition with its 'WeRaceAsOne' campaign."

According to Medland, Saudi race promoter HRH Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisal spoke with some F1 drivers at the British Grand Prix to go over their concerns about the country's human rights issues. 

Hamilton wasn't one of the drivers Al Faisal spoke with at that time. 

As of June 2019, per Hristina Byrnes of USA Today, Saudi Arabia is one of 13 countries in the world where being gay can be tried as a capital crime and is punishable by death. 

"The punishment can also be flogging, but that depends on the perceived seriousness of the wrongdoing," Byrnes wrote. "The sentence for first-time offenders is often lashing or some prison time, while those caught more than once can be executed."

Several prominent sports leagues have started doing business with the Saudi Arabian government in recent years.

In a March report by human rights organization Grant Liberty (h/t Ruth Michaelson of The Guardian), Saudi Arabia has spent "$1.5 billion on high-profile international sporting events in a bid to bolster its reputation."

F1, the PGA Tour, WWE and the annual Saudi Cup horseracing competition are among the notable sports organizations that have held events in the country in recent years. Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund also completed a takeover of ownership of the Premier League's Newcastle United in October. 

Hamilton has been outspoken in the past over his concerns about human rights issues in multiple countries where F1 holds races. 

"Naturally, the human rights issue in so many of the places that we go to is a consistent and a massive problem," Hamilton told reporters last November prior to a race in Bahrain.