Formula 1 and abject Poverty: The sickening truth about Baku

Helena Hicks

Just a stone’s throw away from where the Formula 1 circus has rolled into town, thousands of people are dwelling in abject poverty.

Baku has an atrocious human rights record, but that isn’t all the capital of Azerbaijan is dealing with. A significant number of people living in the capital city are surviving on less than one dollar a day. All while motorsports’ richest show comes to town. Hardly fair.

In 2015, a $6.5 billion project was completed as Baku hosted the European Games. Since then, many have been questioning where all of the revenue from the games have gone, as well as who benefited from hosting.

The organisers of the games also paid for the travel and accommodation expenses of all 6,000 athletes that competed in the events, a move heavily condemned by humans rights groups. Azerbaijan is renowned for a poor human rights record and endemic corruption.

So why did Formula 1 even risk hosting an event there when the country is considered unethical?

Was it merely another money-making move for Ecclestone and co, or did FOM see genuine possibilities to improve the prospects of the nation? The latter is considered unlikely.

In 1995, 68.1% of the country was living below the absolute poverty line. Whilst the figure has decreased since the problem is still rife, with the rich getting richer and the poor struggling even more.

The oil investment in the 90s brought a new richness to Azerbaijan, inflicted by heavy corruption, poverty, unemployment and postwar humanitarian disaster.

According to, the country has a low average wage of AZN410.8 – as of mid-2013 – as well as increasing living costs.

As a result, the living wage is far below the average wage and therefore not adequate for satisfying basic needs. The current minimum wage is AZN125 and the cut-off point to receive social aid is AZN100, while the subsistence minimum level is AZN105.

In short, while many people could be lifted out of poverty, a considerable number of Azerbaijanis remain just below or above the poverty line. These people suffer from unemployment or underemployment and are particularly vulnerable to external influences, and these are vast in Azerbaijan.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Azerbaijan has one of the highest rates of displaced persons worldwide, equating to 6.5% of the total population. Unsurprisingly, the country has come under immense pressure from the likes of the UN to change. Unlike many impoverished countries–where foreign aide and media coverage can at least help alleviate difficulty–Azerbaijan is an unknown quantity. Freedom of the press simply doesn’t exist, a relic of the autocratic grip that embraced the country during soviet occupation. This has harvested a culture where the hereditary despotic regime of the Aliyav dynasty has been allowed to subsist, largely unchallenged.

lham Aliyev (left) hoping to rule Azerbaijan as long as his father did

So there you have it, the only reason the sheer squalor facing many Azerbaijani citizens isn’t better know has everything to do with the Machiavellian behaviour of their administration. A cursory google scroll will unearth the severity of their human rights breaches, not to mention the extent of imprisoned journalists, dissidents and just about anyone with an opposing opinion.

The pinnacle of motorsport will get underway while thousands of people are left stranded. Within site of the race. Without anything.

F1 strikes again.




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