In a strongly worded letter, FIA president Mohammad Ben Sulayem has called out the online abuse in F1 and has stressed the need for 'respect' within the sport. Referring to the recent death threats received by Silvia Bellot, one of FIA's female stewards, he stressed how this kind of abuse has been going on for years now in an uncharacteristically strongly worded letter.
Ben Sulayem appealed to the entire motorsport ecosystem to take a stand and not ignore the abuse any further. He wrote:
"Passions run high in sport, but online harassment, abuse and hate speech must not be tolerated. Everyone in our sport, from the media, teams, drivers and fans has a role to play. We cannot ignore this. I urge the entire motorsport ecosystem to take a stand. We must call it out. It has to stop."
In the letter, Ben Sulayem talked about the death threats received by Silvia Bellot, saying:
"Recently one of the FIA female stewards, Silvia Bellot, was the subject of death threats. It is utterly deplorable that a volunteer such as Silvia or any of our marshals and officials, who volunteer their time to allow us to go racing, is the subject of such hatred. Indeed a number of FIA staff have also been targeted with harassment and hate posts over the past few years."
Touching on why the FIA was not making this statement in conjunction with F1, the President stated that this was a result of the attack on the FIA's own and that he was always going to stand up for them. He said:
"I will always stand up for my staff and volunteers. And let me be clear – without these people there would be no racing. We have to ask ourselves, who would want to pursue becoming a top official in this environment? The reality is obvious - if this continues it will destroy our sport. As the referee, and as the President you of course expect people to disagree with the decisions you make. But you should expect that those opinions and comments are respectful. This is increasingly rare."
Steps taken by the FIA to combat online abuse in F1
Mohammed Ben Sulayem's letter wasn't just a document condemning what had happened. Instead, the FIA has taken concrete steps, as laid out in the letter, to combat the events in the online space. The steps include:
- We have entered into dialogue with social media platforms to play their part and we are beginning work with governments and fellow sports governing bodies to bring them together to make strong commitments for joint action.
- We are commissioning research via the FIA University into digital hate and toxic commentary specific to sport. This will provide a platform for knowledge sharing, education and prevention.
- We have partnered with Arwen.ai to utilise their AI software to detect and eradicate abusive content on our own channels.
FIA plans to build on F1's 'Drive it out' campaign
The letter also mentioned that the FIA planned to build on F1's 'Drive it out' campaign and leverage the motorsport governing body's reach "which numbers 244 motoring and sporting organisations in 146 countries on 5 continents."
The FIA president will be talking more about this in the year-ending 2022 F1 Abu Dhabi GP. The letter does come in conjunction with one of our recent features, where we pointed out how the increasing toxicity in F1 has started to become an issue.
The abuse received by Michael Masi after the 2021 season finale is well documented along with the events this season, with multiple reports of crowd abuse in the races.