Sport for Rights, an organization that highlights human rights abuses in Azerbaijan, has urged Formula One to speak out against transgressions committed by the state, according to The Guardian. Azerbaijan has a track record of detaining journalists and political dissidents, among other violations. Azerbaijan is set to host the Formula One race on June 19.
The request may fall on deaf ears since Formula One executive director, Bernie Ecclestone, said in the past that he does not think Azerbaijan is a grave human rights violator. Sports for Rights do not wish to see the event cancelled or boycotted, but has also urged various pop stars performing for the occasion to cancel their appearances.
Azerbaijan’s hosting of Formula One is the latest in a string of despotic regimes hosting world-renowned events, and critics cite that human rights violating nations should not be rewarded with prestigious occasions that boost the profiles of authoritarians. Galas such as the FIFA World Cup and Formula One give notorious regimes public relations makeovers to gloss over any blemishes in the form of political or societal turmoil.
In Azerbaijan’s case, it is a great chance to showcase the modernity of the capital, Baku, while attracting attention across the world that could manifest into additional overseas business. Azerbaijan is already a prime investment destination for many international companies.
Azerbaijan has glaring issues that are hard to overlook, including corruption and state violence in the form of beatings, torture and forced disappearances. Baku is helmed by a family that is attached to shady business dealings overseas, and many notable human rights organizations have decried the treatment of Azerbaijani citizens, particularly dissidents.
President Ilham Aliyv rules Azerbaijan, inheriting his post from his late father while failing to secure civil liberties, press freedoms and religious liberty.
With that, Azerbaijan is on better footing when compared to other oil-driven economies. In the past decade, Azerbaijan has been among the world’s fastest growing countries due to oil revenues, and despite the economic repercussions of a low-priced oil market, leaders weathered the storm by diversifying the economy in key areas such as agriculture, technology and tourism.
The administration is set in its ways, and leaders won't start get the message until human rights transgressions are met with economic punishment. Unlikely for a nation that faces few consequences from the international community over its stern policies. However, some sponsors grow weary as organizers continue to choose authoritarian countries as hosting venues, and change will only follow when sponsors begin pulling their money from these events.