The false equation of silence and neutrality in sports


Lindsay Taylor '24

Sporting institutions silence their athletes to distract from internal controversies.

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) announced December 2022 that, as of 2023, it will ban all competitors from making political, religious, and personal statements in violation of the organization’s promotion of neutrality, according to  This decision fits into the wider context of sport organizations trying to retain power over their athletes to appease viewers.  Notably, the Qatar World Cup 2022 forbade players from wearing armbands to stand up against the country’s anti-Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) legislation.  However, despite the FIA’s stance that this decision promotes neutrality, silencing drivers’ voices only perpetuates existing problems in the outside world and inside motorsport itself.  

The FIA is the governing body of motorsport that promotes the accessibility and safety of racing worldwide, according to  It monitors competitions from endurance racing and the World Rally Championship to Formula 1.  Particularly during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of Mr. George Floyd and the movement against climate change, prominent drivers such as Mr. Sebastian Vettel and Sir Lewis Hamilton have used their platforms to draw attention to causes that matter to them.  

Sir Hamilton wears a shirt memorializing Breonna Taylor in the Formula 1 paddock.  Courtesy of

Sir Hamilton wore a shirt labeled “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor” during the podium procedure for the 2020 Tuscan Grand Prix, according to  Although at the time the FIA considered punishing Sir Hamilton for his violation, it instead clarified the rules to ensure a similar protest would not occur again.  

Mr. Vettel has also worn shirts drawing attention to issues of LGBTQ+ persecution in countries where homosexuality is a crime.  Mr. Vettel refused to remove his “Same Love” tee-shirt and took a kneel during the national anthem of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix to protest the country’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, according to  The FIA later fined him for his action similarly to the way FIFA penalized players from the World Cup who wore rainbow armbands.

The FIA’s decision to prevent drivers from expressing social, political, and religious views without the organization’s prior approval bars them from using their platforms to promote positive change.  Sir Hamilton, as the only Black Formula 1 driver, has used his success in motorsport to start the Hamilton Commission, which works to improve Black representation in all areas of motorsport, according to  Although it may seem apt for a body organizing sporting entertainment to remain neutral, this neutrality might exist mainly to appease some of the questionable sponsors that back Formula 1.

Mr. Vettel kneels during the Hungarian national anthem in protest of the government’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.  Courtesy of

One of Formula 1’s biggest sponsors is Aramco, a Saudi Arabian petroleum refineries company with connections to the Saudi government.  This organization draws significant controversy due to its ties to the Saudi Royal Family’s human rights violations, such as the murder of journalist Mr. Jamal Khashoggi, and its mass production of oil, around 4 billion barrels a year, according to  Other notable sporting events and governing bodies such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have discouraged athletes from speaking up about dubious decisions to distract viewership from potential controversy. 

With the growth of social media, prominent organizations have to be more careful than ever to prevent controversy.  Consequently, organizations have to protect their image above all else.  Due to China’s anti-free speech policies, Olympic athletes could not speak up about the Uyghur concentration camps during the 2022 Beijing Olympics without fear of prosecution, according to  Despite this, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released no statement protecting the voices of athletes participating in the games, highlighting its complicity in minimizing the controversy around the host country that it chose for the games.

Ultimately, the main purpose of limiting athletes’ free speech is to protect the image of sporting governing bodies, not to create an enjoyable atmosphere for fans.  It is critical for athletes such as Sir Hamilton to use their platforms to bring awareness to embedded issues in sports in order for viewers to support progress.

Featured Image by Lindsay Taylor ’24