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Another white elephant? Sri Lanka considers building Formula 1 track in Rajapaksa hometown

Sri Lankan government officials are reportedly in talks with Spanish and Japanese investors over plans a 5.6 km racing track in Hambantota, despite Sri Lanka's worsening economic crisis and damning human rights record.

Sri Lanka is reportedly also considering a bid to host the 2026 Commonwealth games following a previous failed attempt under Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2011 and ongoing controversy over the island’s human rights record. The report, which first appeared in the Sunday Times, suggests "the plan is to unload the racing cars at the Hambantota port with the Hambantota airport" both of which are also relatively new constructions in the Rajapaksa hometown.

Hambantota airport remained so empty, that at one point it was used to store paddy. In 2017, the Sri Lankan government officially handed Hambantota Port to China on a 99-year lease last week, as Colombo struggled to pay off massive debts. With the economy in even worse shape, the prospect of yet another 'white elephant' project in Hambantota has left many feeling begrudged.

Read more here: Sri Lanka eyes up 2026 Commonwealth Games bid

The discussions also come as Sri Lanka faces renewed international scrutiny over its human rights record with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, criticising the “corrosive impact that militarisation” as well as the “surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared”.

Last year, F1 driver, Lewis Hamilton spoke out against the countries chosen by the company stating that Formula has a “consistent and massive” problem it must address with human rights abuses in countries it visits.

“As a sport, we need to do more. We have taken a step in that direction, but we can always do more”, he maintained.

Hamilton was speaking in Bahrain following letters from three Bahraini citizens detailing the ongoing abuses and torture engaged in by Bahraini authorities.

Torture continues to be a systemic issue in Sri Lanka with the International Truth and Justice Project detailing the torture of 15 Tamils arbitrarily detained since Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed power in 2019. The report details their harrowing experiences of beatings, burnings, asphyxiation, and gang rape at the hands of Sri Lankan security forces.

Responding to concerns over human rights, F1 has stated:

“We take violence, abuse of human rights and repression very seriously […] Our human rights policy is very clear and states that the Formula One companies are committed to respecting internationally recognised human rights in its operations globally.”

Read more here.

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