David Beckham criticised by human rights campaigners over Bahrain F1 involvement

Beckham's participation in the Grand Prix upset human rights activists

Bahraini pro-democracy campaigners have said they are “upset” with David Beckham after he took part in the Bahraini Grand Prix.

Beckham waved the chequered flag, promoted the event on his social media and met Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman, even thanking him on Instagram for his “hospitality and friendship”.

Human rights campaigners say Bahrain’s unelected rulers use the race to promote themselves and that Beckham played a part in that.

Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei, director of the London-based Bahrain Institute of Rights and Democracy, told Left Foot Forward:

““It’s upsetting to see David Beckham enjoying the BahrainGP races and shaking hands with Bahrain’s tyrants.

“While he smiles to camera waving the Grand Prix flag, he should not forget the thousands of political prisoners that are jailed because they stood against repression.”


“He should remember female activist Najah Yusuf, who paid a heavy price for opposing the race in 2017, and is now languishing in prison after being subjected to sexual assault and abuse.”

Najah Yusuf was arrested in 2017 and sentenced to three years in prison after she criticised the Bahraini regime and the Grand Prix on Facebook.

She told the Guardian she was sexually assaulted and beaten in prison and that the regime threatened to kill her son if she did not unlock her phone.

For her, she said the race is an “annual reminder of our suffering in our fight against tyranny and repression”.


Amnesty International has long been critical of the Bahraini regime. Samah Hadid, its Middle East director of campaigns, said:

“Beneath the glamour of the F1, there is a far more sinister side to Bahrain, revealing the country as a deeply repressive state where anyone critical of the government can be jailed merely for posting a tweet.”

During the Arab Spring in 2011, when dozens of Bahrainis were killed by the regime, the race was cancelled. After being controversially reinstated the next year, it was met with protests which have been repeated every year since.

Bahrain is a small island in the Arabian/Persian Gulf. Its ruling Al Khalifa family have long been allied to the UK and Saudi governments.

A spokesperson for the Bahraini regime said: “Najah Yusuf’s conviction does not relate to Bahrain’s Formula 1 Grand Prix. Any suggestion that she was convicted of a related offence is categorically incorrect. She was charged and subsequently convicted by a court of terror offences. Furthermore, Najah Yusuf’s defence did not claim during her trial that her right to free speech had been infringed. Peaceful protests of any kind are protected by Bahrain’s constitution and do not constitute a crime.”

Joe Lo is a freelance journalist and a reporter for Left Foot Forward

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2 Responses to “David Beckham criticised by human rights campaigners over Bahrain F1 involvement”

  1. Patrick Newman

    Well Joe, having written a highly critical piece about the Bahraini government and its practices what are we to make of their statement which basically says everything is OK. Any thoughts/critique?

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