• These include the Fifa World Cup in Qatar next year and boxer Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title bout with Anthony Ruiz in Saudi Arabia in 2019.
• “I don’t believe that shutting countries off and saying we don’t want to be there will help the situation to improve. Actually, it will be the opposite," said Domenicali.
Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali says the new grands prix in Qatar and Saudi Arabia can help drive progress on human rights in the countries.
The Gulf states have been criticised for their human rights records but Domenicali argued that “shutting countries off” would have a negative effect.
Domenicali said: “Such an important change cannot happen overnight. It is a cultural change that will take time.
“But the timing will be accelerated by the fact big events are there. And Formula 1 will play an important role in that respect.”
Qatar holds its maiden grand prix this weekend, with Saudi Arabia following in two weeks’ time, before the 2021 season concludes in Abu Dhabi. The two races are the latest in a series of international sporting events to be held in the fossil fuel-rich Middle Eastern countries.
These include the Fifa World Cup in Qatar next year and boxer Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title bout with Anthony Ruiz in Saudi Arabia in 2019.
And Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund recently bought the Premier League side Newcastle United. Domenicali, who was talking in an exclusive interview with BBC Sport, said that F1’s contracts with Qatar and Saudi Arabia contain guarantees that the countries must respect human rights in all aspects of their association with the sport. If they do not comply, Domenicali said, F1 has the right to break its contract with them.
And he said the countries were already taking actions that backed up their claims to be serious about making changes in their societies.
“If you look pragmatically at what they are doing, in terms of for example women, they have women in prominent positions in the organisation, they are working and respecting the regulations,” Domenicali said. “I believe the spotlight we are bringing will be beneficial for the will and the wishes of change that these countries are showing.
“I don’t believe that shutting countries off and saying we don’t want to be there will help the situation to improve. Actually, it will be the opposite. It doesn’t mean everything is perfect, but for sure what we are doing and what we are signing off is headed in the right direction.”
He added that F1 had installed independent auditors to monitor the building of the new track in Saudi Arabia to ensure workers’ rights were fully respected. The event in Qatar this weekend is being held on an existing track, the Losail International Circuit outside Doha.