FIA issues political gag order for F1 drivers
IMAGE: Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton will have to watch his words. Photograph: Rula Rouhana/Reuters
Formula One drivers will need prior written permission from the sport’s governing body to make ‘political statements’ from next season following an update of the International Sporting Code.
The 2023 version of the code, which applies to all series sanctioned by the International Automobile Federation (FIA), was published on the governing body’s website with changes highlighted.
The FIA added a new clause regarding “the general making and display of political, religious and personal statements or comments notably in violation of the general principle of neutrality promoted by the FIA under its statutes.”
Drivers who make such statements will now be in breach of the rules unless the FIA, whose president is Mohammed Ben Sulayem of the United Arab Emirates, has granted previous approval in writing.
The sport did not previously have such specific restrictions.
Article 1.2 of the FIA statutes vows to promote the protection of human rights and to “refrain from manifesting discrimination” on a range of issues including ‘political opinion’.
The 2023 season starts in Bahrain on March 5.
Mercedes’ seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton, and now-retired four-times champion Sebastian Vettel, have been among those making political statements at races in recent seasons.
Hamilton, who has been an outspoken campaigner for human rights and diversity, wore a black T-shirt at the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix with the words “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” on the front.
The shirt also had a photograph of the Black medical worker, who was shot dead in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment by police officers, with “Say her name”.
The FIA set out new pre- and post-race rules for driver attire after that incident.
Hamilton has also called for more change in Saudi Arabia, saying this year that he was shocked to hear of mass executions, and has raced in the Middle East with a rainbow helmet in support of LGBTQ+ rights.
Vettel used his platform to highlight issues from LGBTQ rights to climate change. This year he wore a shirt proclaiming ‘Stop Mining Tar Sands’ and ‘Canada’s Climate Crime’ at the Canadian Grand Prix.
In 2021 he wore a rainbow-coloured T-shirt in Hungary with the message ‘same love’ to protest anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
An FIA spokesman said the update was “in alignment with the political neutrality of sport” as enshrined in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) code of ethics.
The FIA was awarded full recognition status by the IOC in 2013.
Global Athlete director-general Rob Koehler said on Twitter it was “blatantly hypocritical” of the FIA to tell athletes to stick to sport and stay out of politics.
He referred to article 19 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights upholding the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to hold opinions without interference.
“Sport rules should not have the ability to limit that right,” he said.
Global Athlete describes itself as an international athlete-led movement that is leading positive change in world sport.