Azerbaijan: a Formula for combining sports and repression

April 21, 2015

Lewis Hamilton has just won the Bahrain Grand Prix [which was canceled in 2011 amid violent clashes after an uprising demanding political reforms]. It was the occasion for F1 chief Bernie Eccle­stone to says that the Azerbaijan “Baku European Grand Prix” will make its début in 2016, despite concerns over the country’s human rights record. Earlier this week, the sport’s official website carried a notice stating that “The Formula One Group is committed to respecting internationally recognized human rights in its operations globally.” Asked if the human rights situation in Azerbaijan had been checked out with a view to hosting next year’s race, Ecclestone said “We have” before adding “I think everybody seems to be happy. There doesn’t seem to be any big problem there.”

One wonders where he got this idea as the Human Rights Watch report (and that of other NGOs, such as FIDH/OMCT, see link below) on Azerbaijan for 2015 was damning:

  • The Azerbaijani government escalated repression against its critics, marking a dramatic deterioration in its already poor rights record,” the report states.
  • “The authorities convicted or imprisoned at least 33 human rights defenders, political and civil activists, journalists, and bloggers on politically motivated charges, prompting others to flee the country or go into hiding.
  • “Authorities froze the bank accounts of independent civic groups and their leaders, impeded their work by refusing to register foreign grants, and imposed foreign travel bans on some.
  • “Many of those detained complained of ill-treatment in police custody. Many organisations, including several leading rights groups, were forced to cease activities.”
  • and only a few days ago Rasul Jafarov, a human rights lawyer, was sentenced to six and a half years imprisonment![]

The video above, also published 19 April, refers to another Azerbaijani splash – the inaugural European Games, a multi-sport event for over 6,000 athletes starting on 12 June – but the information is as valid for the F1 event.

And it is not just Formula One or the sports organizations that coöperate in promoting Azerbaijan’s good image. Atletico Madrid defends the shirts it is wearing as follows: “The link between Azerbaijan and Atlético Madrid is much more than a traditional commercial sponsorship associated with a shirt sponsorship, because it has a tremendous value, as the tool to achieve important goals, through actions of a different nature, sports, commercial, communication, marketing and corporate social responsibility [emphasis added] for the benefit of all parties“(according its website). Again, where do they get the notion that this arrangement achieves ‘important goals‘  such as human rights? And if sports and politics are so separate, why is Baku chasing all the these trophies?

If the human rights movement and public opinion are unable to stop dictatorships to mark up their image in this way, shouldn’t they at least be forced to release (some) wrongfully detained and imprisoned human rights defenders?  The SRA (Sports and Rights Alliance) has its work cut out [see:]!

via Ecclestone says 2016 Azerbaijan Grand Prix going ahead – – FOX6 WBRC Birmingham, AL.


3 Responses to “Azerbaijan: a Formula for combining sports and repression”

  1. […] repression of human rights defenders in the run up to the European Games [see my latest post:], the authorities seems to have decided to give in a tiny bit (see two examples below) and […]

  2. […] rights record seem to bear fruit. I have written myself several times along these lines [recently:], so I will not repeat all the arguments. Just to note that several heavyweights have added their […]

  3. […] Sports and human rights (or as some like to say ‘sports and politics‘) remains a hotly disputes topic. While the organized sport world (FIFA, IOC) is slowly coming around to take these matters more seriously [see e.g.  and], it seems that less progress is made with sports events organized by repressive regimes simply to boost their image. Recently called ‘sports washing‘ [The term was coined in relation to a planned tennis exhibition match in Jeddah last December between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, – It never went ahead due to an injury of Nadal.]. Azerbaijan in 2015 tried to make good use of sporting events (see e.g.; and…). […]

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