The head of Formula One’s governing body warned on Tuesday that online abuse, including death threats, against volunteers and officials would destroy the sport if left unchecked.
International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said a female steward recently received death threats while staff had been targeted with harassment and hate posts for years.
“The level of sustained toxicity has reached crisis point. It is time for all of us to unite – and to act,” he said in an op-ed piece published on motorsport.com and the FIA website.
Spanish race steward Silvia Bellot was targeted after compatriot and double world champion Fernando Alonso was penalised at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin and then reinstated a few days later on review.
Ben Sulayem said such abuse had a devastating effect on the mental health of officials and volunteers, without whom there would be no racing.
“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,” he wrote.
“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.”
The president said the FIA was talking to social media platforms and working with governments and other sports governing bodies “to make strong commitments for joint action.”
The FIA had also commissioned research into online abuse in sport and partnered with technology platform Arwen to detect and remove abusive content through the use of artificial intelligence software.
Formula One and the 10 teams have also been working with social media platforms and Arwen to report and block online abuse.
New and younger audiences have been attracted by the Netflix docu-series ‘Drive to Survive’ but commentators have noted fans becoming more ‘tribal’ as the sport surges in popularity.
Last season’s final race triggered huge controversy with Max Verstappen denying Lewis Hamilton a record eighth title after now-departed FIA race director Michael Masi changed the safety car procedure.
Masi revealed in July he had received online death threats, while Verstappen and Hamilton spoke out in Mexico this month about social media becoming increasingly toxic.
Formula One in July launched a “Drive it Out” initiative after incidents of racist and homophobic behaviour by spectators and the sexual harassment of female fans at races.
Ben Sulayem said the FIA would be launching a concerted campaign, leveraging the reach of a federation representing 146 countries across five continents.
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