Sports Washing

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Row Man Gross-Gene
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Sports Washing

Post by Row Man Gross-Gene »

We’ve had this conversation bit by bit a number of times in the past and I’m sure we will a number of times to come in the future, but I want to talk about sports washing or when F1 partners with a regime or government that is repressive or violent or corrupt. I’d like to get the perspective of the posters here and what everyone thinks about it. I’m hoping the discussion can be civil and result in no bans because I really appreciate the varied perspectives of the people here.

My perspective is that I don’t like sports washing. I don’t like when F1 partners with a repressive regime and I wish they’d stop. I also dislike whataboutism (saying that since every country has done something bad at some point, no country should be off limits). I have more thoughts, but I’d rather read what others think about this subject.
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by dr-baker »

Sports washing tends to be a two way conversation. The sport says that they can go in and make a difference while the country says that they are legitimate by having the sport visiting. It takes two to tango.

It would have been interesting if F1 had had a female competitor for the first race in Saudi Arabia if they had still had a ban on female drivers for instance.
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by CoopsII »

It's definitely got worse in the last two decades as whoever has been in charge of F1 has valued $$$s over, well, anything really, be it heritage or scruples.

I've never bought into the idea that taking the sport to ultra-conservative societies may help pave the way to opening that society up. That is, in a word, bollocks. Let them watch it on TV for free if you really think cars whizzing past will stop dickheads thinking being gay is a reason to be imprisoned or worse. (Separately, whilst I applaud Vettel and Hamilton for taking a stand, they're both moving into the end of their careers and I wonder if the younger VET or HAM would be so vocal? Maturity educates, of course, and they've both earned a certain amount of media clout through experience. Who knows?)

To paraphrase Ricky Gervais, if the Taliban paid enough money, F1 would call Herman Tilke to get a track drawn up.
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Freeze-O-Kimi »

F1 would gladly hold a race in North Korea if it had the chance. Sadly this is the way it’s gone in all sports. The days of traditional values have long since been over and that’s why more venues get held in these countries with chequered pasts.

The thing that scares me the most about Sportswashing is how easily people get sucked into it in all sports. Take football as the prime example, Newcastle fans were all too willing to sell their souls for the Saudi takeover and that dates back to the first time before it was initially blocked. It’s the same with Man City. I remember Micah Richards coming out last month saying “I don’t understand why City don’t get more credit for what they’ve done”. That’s because everyone knows how City have got there, who their owners are and because they don’t sell out their attendance and trophy parades and yet the pundits and media make out like it’s a fairytale achievement.

As for Hamilton and Vettel while there have been some good actions from both of them, a part of me has never been fully able to shake the feeling that there’s an element of hypocrisy (to be fair to Vettel he gladly acknowledges it). Campaigning to save the planet when you drive for teams sponsored by huge oil and gas companies and talking about human rights yet still accepting a paycheque to race in the likes of Saudi Arabia just doesn’t sit right with me. I say this all the time but if they really cared about it then they’d have called the decision to give Saudi Arabia a race out the day after it was announced or they’d have led a proper drivers boycott. Instead Hamilton waits until the weekend of the race to say something and the race still goes ahead unchallenged.

The worst bit of all is the fact that most people will still watch it. From the Qatar World Cup to the Saudi-Sponsored golf tournament. The reason why? Because sportswashing works.

That’s just my two cents on the topic, enough rambling from me, back to getting through this heatwave 🥵
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Meatwad »

Freeze-O-Kimi wrote: 23 Jun 2022, 11:47 F1 would gladly hold a race in North Korea if it had the chance. Sadly this is the way it’s gone in all sports. The days of traditional values have long since been over and that’s why more venues get held in these countries with chequered pasts.
I don't think those "traditional values" ever really applied to F1 – they had no problem racing in apartheid-era South Africa for years. Though a couple of teams actually boycotted the race in its last year, which must have played a part in it getting removed from the calendar. I find it a bit hard to imagine teams boycotting a race these days – maybe this year if the race in Russia had gone ahead?
Freeze-O-Kimi wrote: 23 Jun 2022, 11:47 The worst bit of all is the fact that most people will still watch it. From the Qatar World Cup to the Saudi-Sponsored golf tournament. The reason why? Because sportswashing works.
It would be really hard to make a boycott work, unless it was from within the sport (involving teams, drivers etc.). F1 couldn't care less if a random person watched a race on TV or not, as long as the race organizer pays them. If the track was unable to sell tickets for the race, that might have more of an effect, but there are probably enough people who don't care (at least from the country where the race is held).
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Rob Dylan »

I agree with the comments regarding the initial reaction to Saudi Arabia as opposed to the reaction on the weekends themselves. Taking a stand is pointless if you decide to start having a conscience on the Thursday before the race begins. For moral ambassadors, Hamilton and Vettel make very poor ones. Better than nothing? Maybe, but that's almost beside the point in my opinion. For all their talk they have accomplished approximately zero.

What intrigues me is the messaging F1 puts out. I mention this in both the Saudi Arabia race reports, but it's fascinating to me how short term the vision is for a sport which is only in the last few years climbing out of a downward spiral. Getting into bed with horrible regimes whose presents are chequered, never mind their pasts, for the quick easy bucks is as predictable as it is foolish. It's nothing personal, just business, but very poor business.
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by RAK »

I'm uncomfortable with this in general, but in particular about several of the Middle Eastern countries for demographic reasons that, among other things, make me legally considered a terrorist in Saudi Arabia. I could be considered hypocritical for watching the races regardless, but putting that aside, I believe that this not only legitimises the regimes holding these races but also promotes political movements seeking to carry out similar breaches of human rights in other countries. It's all about soft power, something which is underrated as a tool of governments.
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Butterfox »

All of your opinions are valid, i'm not discussing them, but isn't this a problem of all ages since sport first started to become international? I agree with the points many people bring on, but without sportwashing, i do not think we'd ever had any international sports whatsoever.

Just an observation.
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Row Man Gross-Gene »

Butterfox wrote: 24 Jun 2022, 13:23 All of your opinions are valid, i'm not discussing them, but isn't this a problem of all ages since sport first started to become international? I agree with the points many people bring on, but without sportwashing, i do not think we'd ever had any international sports whatsoever.

Just an observation.
That's an interesting point. Basically saying there is no economic benefit to the host country when hosting virtually any form of international competition (meaning sportswashing is the only benefit available). I think we kind of suspected this, based on most of the countries which are willing to host the olympics these days.

So, regarding sports washing, what do people think we should do?
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by mario »

Meatwad wrote: 23 Jun 2022, 17:50
Freeze-O-Kimi wrote: 23 Jun 2022, 11:47 F1 would gladly hold a race in North Korea if it had the chance. Sadly this is the way it’s gone in all sports. The days of traditional values have long since been over and that’s why more venues get held in these countries with chequered pasts.
I don't think those "traditional values" ever really applied to F1 – they had no problem racing in apartheid-era South Africa for years. Though a couple of teams actually boycotted the race in its last year, which must have played a part in it getting removed from the calendar. I find it a bit hard to imagine teams boycotting a race these days – maybe this year if the race in Russia had gone ahead?
In the case of South Africa during the apartheid era, Renault and Ligier might have boycotted the race, but it appears that they only did so because the French government put pressure on them to do so.

Most drivers, whilst not being happy at driving, took the attitude that they would race because they were contracted to do so. As for the teams, most also seem to have taken a similar position that, because they were contracted to do so, they would race there - some were even rumoured to be using the South African GP as an opportunity to make some additional money on the side by using their freight allowance to smuggle in additional goods that some countries had imposed export bans on, which would then be sold on the black market in South Africa.

In the case of the Russian GP, that decision was probably made easier by the fact that funding for that event came from a sanctioned bank, so accepting payment for the race would have also meant breaking international sanctions. That alone would have made it easier for teams to duck out of the race, and also probably for the sport as well.
RAK wrote: 24 Jun 2022, 09:33 I'm uncomfortable with this in general, but in particular about several of the Middle Eastern countries for demographic reasons that, among other things, make me legally considered a terrorist in Saudi Arabia. I could be considered hypocritical for watching the races regardless, but putting that aside, I believe that this not only legitimises the regimes holding these races but also promotes political movements seeking to carry out similar breaches of human rights in other countries. It's all about soft power, something which is underrated as a tool of governments.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, it is indeed part of the strategy of the current regime to use that "soft power" as a means of reshaping the image of the country and to promote itself as a regional power.

Sporting events play a major part of that strategy, hence the move to not just have an F1 race, but the Dakar rally, tennis, golf and other series are also being paid hefty amounts to hold events there as part of the strategy of encouraging more tourists to come and to soften the image of the country (alongside the major infrastructure spending, such as the Neom city project).
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Wallio »

I had not heard this term before the current golf spilt, and now its seemingly everywhere on my feeds lol. Knowing what the term means now, it honestly doesn't bother me, because I separate the work from its politics. Be it book, movie, race, whatever. From what I understand J.K. Rowling is an absolute shite human being, but Harry Potter did indeed change the world for millions of children. John Travolta is completely insane and a cult member, but he made some of the better movies of the last 30 years. Even though I don't golf, I'm watching the current brew-ha-ha as a historian watching CART/IRL all over again, the source of the split money is irrelevant. So to me, I don't mind racing in country X (Miami and Vegas pissed me off far more) I just wish they actually build a decent track in one of them besides Turkey.
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Row Man Gross-Gene »

Wallio wrote: 28 Jun 2022, 15:39 I don't mind racing in country X
Thanks for chiming in. I am curious why you don't mind racing in say Saudi Arabia?
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Re: Sports Washing

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Row Man Gross-Gene wrote: 28 Jun 2022, 16:29
Wallio wrote: 28 Jun 2022, 15:39 I don't mind racing in country X
Thanks for chiming in. I am curious why you don't mind racing in say Saudi Arabia?

Because as I said, to me at least, not everything is politics. Sport is sport, and politics is politics, they have no bearing on one another. There's also the fact that at the risk of becoming a straw man, where do you stop? Saudi is an easy place to pick on, as are Singapore and Bahrain. But should we drop the US? Germany? Brasil? You can make the case we should without too much mental gymnastics. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. What about sponsors? A lot of them are shady. What about companies? Mercedes has a DARK past. Shell too. Do we really want to ban them? No, of course not.

No, I watch a race, or read a book or watch a film to unwind and forget about the many issues that are dogging me otherwise. The last thing I want is more drama.
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by CoopsII »

It's hard to disagree with what Wallio says above. I can see Russia being back on the calendar within five years. Somebody bookmark this thread......
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Re: Sports Washing

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CoopsII wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 08:34 It's hard to disagree with what Wallio says above. I can see Russia being back on the calendar within five years. Somebody bookmark this thread......
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Butterfox »

I still think that without the concept of sportwashing, nobody would want to pay for hosting events, building venues, creating championships or even sponsoring (because companies use sportwashing as well), so yeah, it sucks, but we'd all be watching local amateur tournaments or college sports if it weren't for sportwashing. And even on these level theres some sportwashing to a low extent. So we choose for ourselves wether we want to be hypocrites or alternatively retreat to live in a forest in an anarcho-communist community :P
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Row Man Gross-Gene »

CoopsII wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 08:34 It's hard to disagree with what Wallio says above. I can see Russia being back on the calendar within five years. Somebody bookmark this thread......
I understand the impulse to think of it this way. I acknowledge that if we need all of our hosts/sponsors to be spotless, we won't have a racing series (or any sports for that matter) to watch. But I don't think that Mercedes' dark past is equivalent to Saudi Arabia's present and I suggest that it is possible to draw a line and not have it decimate F1. I would suggest perhaps that if a government's official policy is to murder or 'disappear' journalists, they shouldn't be hosting a race. That would drop about 2-3 current hosts from the schedule. You don't even have to ditch Aramco as a sponsor if you don't want. I have 2 LGBTQ kids. Maybe any place where their existence is illegal shouldn't be on the calendar? Those are just two possible ways to draw the line that wouldn't eliminate half the calendar, but would make a meaningful statement.
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Re: Sports Washing

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Wallio wrote: 28 Jun 2022, 16:52
Row Man Gross-Gene wrote: 28 Jun 2022, 16:29
Wallio wrote: 28 Jun 2022, 15:39 I don't mind racing in country X
Thanks for chiming in. I am curious why you don't mind racing in say Saudi Arabia?

Because as I said, to me at least, not everything is politics. Sport is sport, and politics is politics, they have no bearing on one another. There's also the fact that at the risk of becoming a straw man, where do you stop? Saudi is an easy place to pick on, as are Singapore and Bahrain. But should we drop the US? Germany? Brasil? You can make the case we should without too much mental gymnastics. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. What about sponsors? A lot of them are shady. What about companies? Mercedes has a DARK past. Shell too. Do we really want to ban them? No, of course not.

No, I watch a race, or read a book or watch a film to unwind and forget about the many issues that are dogging me otherwise. The last thing I want is more drama.
Whilst I can understand that many do want to say that "sport is sport and politics is politics", quite often the two have been rather more heavily intertwined because it has often been used as a platform to spread a particular message - indeed, part of the effectiveness of the use of sports as part of a "soft power" initiative is to use sports to sugar coat that message and make it easy to digest, often in way that the person watching it doesn't even necessarily sense that is happening.

In the case of the Saudi GP, there are two sides of that message, because there is the message being sent out to the wider world and the message that is being sent to those across the Middle East and within Saudi Arabia itself.

In the former case, the heavy presence of not just the Crown Prince himself, but all of the senior members of his government, at the GP is part of the message he has sought to present to outside powers, particularly the USA, that he is reforming Saudi Arabia by introducing new events and cultural influences. In the case of the latter, part of it is a demonstration not just of his intentions, but also his power - not just in organising such a large scale event, but also his power to keep the more conservative factions in check.

It also ties in to his intentions to make Saudi Arabia the dominant economic and cultural power in the region by holding such large scale sporting events, and ties into the "prestige factor" of being able to do something on a much bigger scale than anybody else in the region has been doing. Subtle it is not, but it is proving to be rather effective in projecting just the sort of image that they want to right now.
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Re: Sports Washing

Post by Row Man Gross-Gene »

mario wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 13:42 Subtle it is not, but it is proving to be rather effective in projecting just the sort of image that they want to right now.
I agree Mario. Assuming that one thinks killing journalists and LGBTQ people is bad, what can ordinary fans do about it? Thus far we've mostly come up with "stay human and keep making noise". But maybe there is more.
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Re: Sports Washing

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Row Man Gross-Gene wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 13:03 But I don't think that Mercedes' dark past is equivalent to Saudi Arabia's present
That's about the only thing I really disagree with you on.


To Mario's point, I don't buy that hosting an F1 race, the Olympics, World Cup, etc. really "sends a message". Maybe 35 years ago, when information wasn't available at a fingertip. Maybe then it worked as propoganda. Right now, the only "message" it sends is that said country has a ton of money. That's it. Why did China get the Winter Olympics? Money. Why does Qatar have the World Cup? Money. Why are we racing in Saudi Arabia? Well, the Middle East is Supercar crazy, but mostly money. Miami was embarrassing, but hey, they have money. I don't honestly believe for one second someone looks at the races in Saudi Arabia, China, Bahrain, Singapore, hell even Baku, and goes "Man, that place looks like a great tourist destination."

I genuinely wonder (because I was a toddler and obviously didn't follow F1 then) were these questions raised about Hungary when it began?
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Re: Sports Washing

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Wallio wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 20:25
Row Man Gross-Gene wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 13:03 But I don't think that Mercedes' dark past is equivalent to Saudi Arabia's present
That's about the only thing I really disagree with you on.


To Mario's point, I don't buy that hosting an F1 race, the Olympics, World Cup, etc. really "sends a message". Maybe 35 years ago, when information wasn't available at a fingertip. Maybe then it worked as propoganda. Right now, the only "message" it sends is that said country has a ton of money. That's it. Why did China get the Winter Olympics? Money. Why does Qatar have the World Cup? Money. Why are we racing in Saudi Arabia? Well, the Middle East is Supercar crazy, but mostly money. Miami was embarrassing, but hey, they have money. I don't honestly believe for one second someone looks at the races in Saudi Arabia, China, Bahrain, Singapore, hell even Baku, and goes "Man, that place looks like a great tourist destination."

I genuinely wonder (because I was a toddler and obviously didn't follow F1 then) were these questions raised about Hungary when it began?
I think Hungary was perceived as 'getting an eastern bloc country to our side' in western media, so kinda indirect western propaganda. Not sure how it was portrayed in the eastern media.
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Re: Sports Washing

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Wallio wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 20:25
Row Man Gross-Gene wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 13:03 But I don't think that Mercedes' dark past is equivalent to Saudi Arabia's present
That's about the only thing I really disagree with you on.
I should say that I wasn't saying that Mercedes' transgressions were any better or worse than Saudi's. Only that the Saudi transgressions are current and ongoing (the proliferation of German crossover SUVs notwithstanding). Like you said though, we probably don't disagree about a lot. And as acknowledged, we can't give up everything we enjoy just because some terrible people are in some way attached to it. I just think it's preferable to try and detach them.
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Re: Sports Washing

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Butterfox wrote: 30 Jun 2022, 11:16
Wallio wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 20:25
Row Man Gross-Gene wrote: 29 Jun 2022, 13:03 But I don't think that Mercedes' dark past is equivalent to Saudi Arabia's present
That's about the only thing I really disagree with you on.


To Mario's point, I don't buy that hosting an F1 race, the Olympics, World Cup, etc. really "sends a message". Maybe 35 years ago, when information wasn't available at a fingertip. Maybe then it worked as propoganda. Right now, the only "message" it sends is that said country has a ton of money. That's it. Why did China get the Winter Olympics? Money. Why does Qatar have the World Cup? Money. Why are we racing in Saudi Arabia? Well, the Middle East is Supercar crazy, but mostly money. Miami was embarrassing, but hey, they have money. I don't honestly believe for one second someone looks at the races in Saudi Arabia, China, Bahrain, Singapore, hell even Baku, and goes "Man, that place looks like a great tourist destination."

I genuinely wonder (because I was a toddler and obviously didn't follow F1 then) were these questions raised about Hungary when it began?
I think Hungary was perceived as 'getting an eastern bloc country to our side' in western media, so kinda indirect western propaganda. Not sure how it was portrayed in the eastern media.
Part of it also seems to be that, for a long time, those involved in the sport didn't really seem to think the race would go ahead, such that the main reaction seems to have been more that of surprise than anything else. Furthermore, there may have been some remembrance of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and the sense that Hungary was not the most enthusiastic part of the Soviet Union at the time.

Wallio, I wouldn't say that it is necessarily always just about, for example, tourism when it comes to the message that some of those host nations want to send. Furthermore, in this case, you might not necessarily see the event as sending a message because you're not the one that message is aimed at - if you look at how the Saudi GP is reported in a number of media organisations, they are viewing it in terms of the political alignments of the region and are seeing it about sending a message to them.

For example, the Qatari based Al Jazeera has criticised the event as "sportswashing" and was also rather pointed about the race going ahead despite the dispute over the attacks by the Houthi tribes in Yemen, given the somewhat fractious relationship between Qatar and Saudi Arabia - to them, the race is seen as an overtly political statement of dominance by Saudi Arabia, particularly given Qatar has been angling for a race itself.
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