Formula E CEO has defended the championship’s decision to race in the Saudi capital Riyadh, after fans took to social media to criticise the deal which was confirmed yesterday.

The announcement of a ten-year deal to race in Riyadh was met with universal disapproval, with many highlighting Saudi Arabia’s strict laws where up until three years ago it was illegal for women to vote or travel without their husband’s consent, and where it is still illegal for women to drive.

In a press conference ahead of the Berlin E-Prix, Agag explained the championship’s stance and addressed concerns that female journalists and team members would be restricted from working on-site at the event.

“I think the decision to race in Riyadh, it’s very important because we want to be part of the positive change that is happening in Saudi Arabia,” said Agag.

“We see this as almost a game changer, that Formula E is going to participate in that change. We believe that the country is changing in the right direction. Still today women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia, but there’s going to be an historic moment next month. There’s going to be a new law and women are going to be able for the first ever to drive in Saudi Arabia.”

Formula E is widely considered to be a forward-thinking, progressive series, but the reaction to the Riyadh announcement on social media has moved many to question the championship’s priorities.

Agag maintains that Formula E has received “complete assurances” from the Saudi authorities that women will not only be allowed to work freely within the paddock, but he also hinted of a movement to get female drivers on track during the event.

“If not as part of a team, we will organise some way for women to drive around the track – which is really the intention of the new leaders of Saudi Arabia to showcase that change,” Agag explained.

“Women will be allowed in the event as spectators, and obviously women will be allowed to come to work and to report on the race. We see that as a great moment of change in a country that didn’t have those rights in the past. We are happy to be part of that change.”

Riyadh hosted the Race of Champions earlier this year, but next season’s Formula E race will be the first time a major international motorsport event has been staged in the country.

Asked to clarify his comments on whether Formula E can successfully operate outside of the political spectrum, Agag insists that fans sceptical of the decision may change their stance once they’ve had a chance to experience the event.

“I stand by my quote – I think sport is above politics. I think it’s sad when because of political reasons a sporting event gets affected – the Olympics, the World cup, it should be above that, said Agag.

“Football, for example, is one of the big events that unifies fans all over the world so we should not mix politics and racing. I think the fans once they see the race, I’m sure there are fans that don’t like that we go there, but there are fans that don’t like that we go to Paris.

“We’re going to have a great race there, so the fans that like racing will like the race, and the fans that like politics will decide on their personal and political views which I completely respect.”

Image Credit: Formula E