Lewis Hamilton calls on more people to stand up to racism after England football incident

SAKHIR, Bahrain -- Five-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton says it is crucial that people make a stand against racism in all walks of life after the England football team faced a series of racist chants during a Euro 2020 qualifying match against Montenegro on Monday.

In a tweet following the match, Hamilton labelled the chants "despicable", adding that such behaviour was "completely unacceptable" in sport.

Hamilton faced racist abuse during a Formula One test in Spain in 2008 when a group of spectators wore wigs, dark make-up and T-shirts with slogans reading "Hamilton's family".

Asked whether he was startled that racism still exists in professional sport in 2019, he said: "It's not only to [sports] players, it's crazy to think that in this time in the world it's still really, really prominent -- it's really there all around the world, racism is still a real issue, which is sad to see.

"It doesn't seem like it's going to be migrating much over the next years, but it's great to see people standing by people in support. It doesn't look like something that's going to particularly change for a long time."

Hamilton was the first black driver to race in Formula One; his now-famous journey to the pinnacle of motor racing began on a council estate in the British town of Stevenage. When he was asked about how to combat racism, he took a long pause before revealing he had faced racist abuse at school that was not properly dealt with.

"People just need to stand up to it more. I just remember being at school when I was younger and people just got a slap on the hand for it, it's just kind of let slide.

"I don't think that should happen anywhere, I think action should be taken and people should be a lot stricter with it. I don't have an answer exactly how it is but it starts from the parents passing on to kids and then it continues on."

This week's tweet was not the first time Hamilton has used his social media channels to tackle racial issues. A year ago, he called for greater diversity in his own sport, posting to Instagram: "There's barely any diversity in F1. Still nothing's changed in 11 years I've been here. Kids, people, there's so many jobs in this sport of which anybody, no matter your ethnicity or background, can make it and fit in."

In 2017 he showed support for former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the practice of kneeling for the U.S. national anthem ahead of sporting contests. Ahead of that year's U.S. Grand Prix, Hamilton posted a picture of Kaepernick alongside a list of victims of police shootings with the words "no conviction" alongside.

Speaking ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix on Thursday, he said he still has to be careful about how he expresses himself on social media but also recognised the influence his large social media following can have.

"I don't feel like I have a responsibility as such. I definitely feel that I'm in a privileged position that I do happen to have quite an audience, that's quite a lot of power, particularly with social media. There are things I see all the time ... there's a lot of stuff that I don't post that I want to post. You have to keep it balanced as I have old followers and young followers and choosing what you do show and don't show, but there's so many issues around the world today.

"There are some things and I'm able to put on social media that people are able to react to and create conversation and I think many people with the following that I have and much more have a lot of power in making it a talking point and creating an opinion and hopefully steering change."