In November 2021, Formula One racing champion Lewis Hamilton made a statement of unmistakable LGBTQ allyship when he competed in the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix wearing a helmet emblazoned with the Progress Pride rainbow.
But due to a new policy enacted by the International Automobile Federation (FIA), such shows of support for the LGBTQ community could soon cost him professionally.
A new addendum to Formula One’s International Sporting Code specifies that drivers will now have to obtain prior written permission from the FIA to make “political, religious, and personal statements” while on the race track during the 2023 season.
Because every successful campaign for human rights naturally starts with a permission slip signed by the ruling class.
According to FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, if drivers such as Hamilton attempt to make a statement without receiving that permission, they could face unspecified sanctions. You can always tell a sporting body’s policy is fair and unimpeachable when it sounds like something enacted by FIFA.
While announcing the policy to the racing media, Ben Sulayem insisted, “We are concerned with building bridges. You can use sport for peace reasons…but one thing we don’t want is to have the FIA as a platform for private personal agendas.”
The FIA wants to use Formula One to build bridges — unless they lead to the LGBTQ community. Ben Sulayem couldn’t have picked a better metaphor to describe the opposite of what his sport’s new rule does.
The FIA president kept making it worse, rhetorically asking, “What does a driver do best? Driving. They are so good at it, and they make the business, they make the show, they are the stars, nobody is stopping them. There are other platforms to express what they want. Everybody has this and they are most welcome to go through the process of the FIA, to go through that.”
Ben Sulayem didn’t explicitly tell Hamilton to “shut up and dribble” but he figured out how to use more than 50 words to pretty much say the same thing.
Since this new rule has echoes of the World Cup threatening clubs with yellow cards for wearing One Love armbands, it would be logical to assume that it has similar origins. Specifically: the money power in anti-gay countries that pay to host Formula One races feeling threatened about LGBTQ rights demonstrations making them look bad on the world stage.
At the moment, Hamilton has not yet commented on his sport’s new policy. When he does have something to say about it, he probably won’t ask for written permission first.