Hamilton says F1 duty-bound to raise human rights concerns

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SAKHIR, Bahrain -- Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton has called on Formula One to do more to raise awareness of the human rights records of the countries it visits, after saying very little progress has been made in Bahrain since the sport first raced there in 2004.

Hamilton's comments came after 20 members of the U.K. parliament wrote a letter to F1 expressing concerns over "sportswashing" in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which will host the first two rounds of the new season.

The British politicians called on F1 to set up an independent inquiry to assess the impact its races have on alleged human rights violations in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Paul Scriven, a member of Britain's House of Lords, said: "We are asking them to do things to improve the way the sport operates around human rights, they are not extreme or radical things, they are issues that we would expect any sporting organisation with any moral leadership at the heart of how motor sport's is governed and operates."

Asked whether F1 had done anything to improve human rights in Bahrain since it started racing there, Hamilton said: "I couldn't say whether or not I know that it's got worse, but I'm not sure it has got better while we've been coming all these years.

"I know for me, I've only in the latterly years started to understand more and more of the challenges of the people here in Bahrain, and also then in Saudi, it was my first time there last year, but of course I read about some of the troubles there.

"I always feel that this, I've always felt that we have a responsibility, and if a sport is going to go to these countries, we are duty-bound to raise awareness and leave a positive impact in these places.

"That view has not always been shared within the sport, whether it's teams or people in high-power positions. But more needs to be done, without doubt. Whether or not that will happen, time will tell."

Hamilton also raised concerns over changes to the FIA's international sporting code this year, which require drivers to seek permission from the governing body before making political statements at races.

Hamilton, who has often used his platform in F1 to highlight social justice issues, said the FIA's move was a step backwards.

"Of course when you read that in the news, that 100 percent says we are going in the wrong direction," Hamilton added. "It's counter to what I've been trying to do with my team, for example, and what I've been trying to do in conversations with stakeholders in our sport.

"But I expect pushback. There are still individuals that don't understand or believe in the importance of having an inclusive environment. I think my job and our job is to continue to highlight the positive impact that can have and the importance of it.

"It might sound like a broken record, but that's what I'm going to keep on doing and the fight I'm going to keep on having."