Written by Heather Stevenson, Edited by Apostolos Papageorgiou
At the Austrian Grand Prix, there were multiple reports of incidents where fans had been harassed. The incidents reported described sexist, racist and homophobic harassment and this has brought up the question of why this has happened and what needs to change to pervent this from taking place at future events.
Firstly, looking at why this happened, in some respects inclusivity is not ingrained in the culture of F1 and even with initiatives, change has been slow. As I have written about before, sexism in F1 is still rife and in some ways is ingrained in both the sport itself and the fan culture. Female fans are often undermined and their knowledge and interest in the sport is often questioned and belittled. The comment section on my last article “What does Naomi Schiff being trolled mean for sexism in F1” is an example of this. Although, I had hoped to start a conversation and welcome differing opinions it was interesting to see that the article got some abuse.The comments included “grow up and not cry like a baby”, “f**k off feminist leave F1 alone”, “keep your soy s**t out of F1” “Long live US Supreme Court” and many others. These are clearly comments from misogynistic trolls without an educated argument and don’t really bother me because I am happy to share my opinion and use my voice to encourage change, but they are still not ok and arguably highlight the problem with some in the fanbase. Also, I say some as obviously it is important to note that many F1 fans are inclusive and welcoming but again it is important to recognise that a problem does exist. Real change is needed within the fan community and the culture as arguably it is being reflected In some people’s behaviour at races. People need to understand and accept that people can like and be interested in the sport for all different reasons.
These reasons don’t all need to be the same. For example, females can like the sport for the innovation and strategy but also think that drivers are attractive. People can support different teams and drivers as competition is part of the sport but respect is still needed. For example, both at Silverstone and Austria crashes were cheered by opposing supporters before it was clear that the driver was unharmed and this is not ok. Fans should be able to identify the line. Overall a culture where people can safely enjoy the sport for any reason they like without worrying about judgement or harassment needs to be created but what needs to happen to achieve this?
Achieving this will obviously be difficult as you will always get people who disagree and have their own opinions, but change is needed. Firstly, it is heartening to see that people are now calling out this kind of behaviour and reporting these types of incidents, as from the many reports and comments it is clear to see that this kind of behaviour has been seen at other Grand Prixs for many years. The calling out includes the FIA who have condemned and are investigating the incidents that occured in Austria. If people are unaware that it is happening change won't happen, so it’s good that the issue was highlighted and is getting taken seriously by the FIA and the teams themselves. Some drivers have also spoken out with Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen all condemning the harassment of fans. Some teams like Aston Martin and Mercedes also invited some fans who had been victims of harassment to be special guests. This is again good as it shows that the teams support the victims and shares the message that these sorts of actions are unacceptable.