By Abhishek Takle
MANAMA (Reuters) - Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton on Thursday urged Formula One to do more to push for human rights, saying the issue was a "massive problem" in some of the sport's host countries.
The Mercedes driver was speaking ahead of Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix, a race that regularly draws criticism from rights campaigners.
"Naturally, the human rights issue in so many of the places that we go to is a consistent and a massive problem," the Briton told reporters, arguing that all sports should use their platforms to seek change.
"We are probably one of the only ones that goes to so many different countries and I do think as a sport we need to do more," he said.
Hamilton, who has used his global standing and celebrity to campaign for diversity and racial equality, said he had received letters forwarded by Sayed Alwadaei, director of the London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).
"I've not had a lot of time to digest them so that's something I definitely need to take some time to do over the coming days," he added.
In one letter, BIRD and 15 other organisations expressed concern about racing in Bahrain "despite continuing abuses against protestors who oppose the event".
They accused the government of using positive publicity surrounding the race, Bahrain's biggest sporting event, to 'sportswash' the situation.
Other letters from 'current and former political prisoners' urged Hamilton to meet activists, wear a T-shirt with a message of support and discuss matters with the Crown Prince.
Bahrain's 2011 race was called off due to civil unrest in the island kingdom.
Formula One is also set to race in neighbouring Saudi Arabia for the first time next year, a move criticised by Amnesty International.
Hamilton said the sport had begun to lay down some conditions that countries have to fulfil before they can host a race.
"It's important to make sure they're implemented in the right way," he added. "It’s not just saying that we're going to do something and actually see some action taken."
(Editing by Alan Baldwin/Christian Radnedge)