Sometimes a rainbow says all that needs to be said.
This Sunday marked the running of the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, the first Formula One racing tournament in that country’s history. In many areas of the globe, this would be cause for celebration.
However, as World Cup fans are discovering, holding a major sporting event in Qatar means you could be dealing with a situation like planning a Pride parade through the Kremlin.
Although Qatar has publicly assured LGBTQ fans they’ll be safe, an official policy of ‘we probably won’t enforce our laws’ is somehow less than reassuring.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and same sex-intercourse is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Furthermore, under the nation’s Sharia courts, it is possible for LGBTQ people to face the death penalty—although there are no recorded instances of this scenario occurring in Qatar.
So what can athletes do when their sport forces them to compete in such a country?
Racing star and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton came up with a good answer: Put the rainbow in a place where it’s impossible to ignore.
During Sunday’s race, Hamilton was behind the wheel wearing a helmet bearing the Progress Pride flag and a message on the back reading “We Stand Together.” He went on to win the race.
Hamilton directly addressed the message he was trying to send with his Progress Pride helmet: “Equal rights is a serious issue.”
As he further elaborated, Hamilton chose to wear the helmet in an effort to force the media to address the issue of Qatar’s draconian anti-LGBTQ laws and not gloss over them just because it would make the host nation uncomfortable:
“I do think as these sports go to these places, they’re duty-bound to raise awareness for these issues. And these places need scrutiny and need the media to speak about these things.”
While Qatar hopes to use events like Sunday’s race to cover up its institutionalized homophobia, Hamilton’s use of the rainbow as a symbol of protest makes it clear that he won’t allow himself or his profession to be used for those purposes.
And with the World Cup coming to Qatar in 2022, the question goes out to soccer players around the globe: who among you wants to become the allies we’re looking for?
Hamilton said he will continue to wear the rainbow at races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi next month.
If anyone wants to step up for the LGBTQ world community, they can look to Hamilton as an example to follow.