Should Hamilton decline his long-awaited knighthood?

2020 F1 season

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There are two upsides to the expected announcement that Lewis Hamilton is to be given a knighthood.

The first is that the most famous Formula 1 driver alive today is being given due recognition in his homeland for his achievements. And not before time: In raw numbers Hamilton is now the most successful F1 driver ever, tying the record for the most world championships won by a single driver (seven) and establishing a new record for most race wins (95). Every one of those wins and titles has come courtesy of British-built cars and engines.

The second upside is that motor sport fans will be spared another round of the predictable annual slew of hand-wringing articles asking why Hamilton hasn’t been knighted yet.

To those who have awaited news of Hamilton’s knighthood with impatience, the possibility he might turn it down might seem preposterous. Yet it is not so far-fetched.

Few people turn down honours such as knighthoods – little more than one in 50 – but the rejection rate is rising. Between 2011 and 2020 it more than doubled from 1.25% to 2.71%. This happened as the number of honours offered rose to over 2,500 last year.

Who turns down such accolades and why? The painter LS Lowry is believed to have declined more honours than anyone, five offers in total, before his death in 1976. Lowry did not want the public intrusion into his private life a formal honour would bring.

It’s hard to imagine Hamilton having similar concerns. With 21 million Instagram followers and counting, he long ago made his peace with the idea of being in the public eye.

Hamilton became an MBE after his first championship victory
Instead Hamilton is increasingly alert to the opportunities offered by a public profile which dwarfs that of his 19 F1 rivals put together. And never more so than in the tumultuous year behind us.

In 2020 he has wielded the power of his profile like never before to focus public attention on racism and champion the cause of diversity. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Hamilton urged Mercedes to dedicate their livery to the ‘end racism’ cause, and he and many of his competitors have ‘taken a knee’ before races.

But some would see this as being incompatible with accepting a knighthood. Such honours are bestowed in the name of the Empire, a racist relic of Britain’s past. Others in Hamilton’s position have declined honours because they do not wish to be associated with the Empire.

Perhaps none have done so more vituperatively than George the Poet, real name George Mpanga, familiar to British Formula 1 fans from his appearances in Sky’s coverage around the time of Hamilton’s second championship victory. Last year Mpanga rejected the offer of an MBE – ‘Member of the British Empire’ – denouncing Britain’s former rule of African countries such as his parents’ native Uganda.

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“Your forefathers grabbed my motherland, pinned her down and took turns,” he said. “They did that every day for a couple hundred years and then left her to treat her own burns. What they did was pure evil and you can’t see it because that was your people.”

Some sportspeople have expressed similar concerns. Four years ago Howard Gayle, the first black footballer to play for reigning Premier League champions Liverpool and a supporter of the ‘Show Racism a Red Card’ initiative, also declined an MBE.

“There will be others who may feel different and would enjoy the attraction of being a Member of the British Empire and those three letters after their name,” said Gayle at the time, “but I feel that it would be a betrayal to all of the Africans who have lost their lives, or who have suffered as a result of Empire.”

Hamilton became an MBE in 2008 and has not previously indicated he shares similar concerns to Mpanga and Gayle. His response last month when asked whether he would accept a knighthood showed he does not associate it with the Empire.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Istanbul Park, 2020
Seven titles make Hamilton an undisputed great of Formula 1
“I would never, ever turn down the royal family,” Hamilton said. “I’ve grown up in the UK and [I’m] an avid fan of them.” Being knighted would be “an incredible honour” he added. “There’s no greater honour, I think, than your country recognising you with such an award.”

But views can change, Hamilton says he is educating himself on issues around racism, and accepting honours is not final. Just yesterday one former recipient returned theirs, albeit for reasons unrelated to Empire.

It would be simplistic to assert that because others who share similar convictions to Hamilton have declined honours, he therefore must do the same. Whether Hamilton should accept a knighthood for any reason is a matter for him alone to decide and not for anyone else to dictate.

As the sole black competitor in the sport, for Hamilton to have scaled the heights he has and then accept a knighthood in the name of the British Empire may be regarded as the ultimate repudiation of the racist values it represented.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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124 comments on “Should Hamilton decline his long-awaited knighthood?”

  1. Absolutely not! Why would one deny such a prestigious honour?

    Hamilton has brought more success to England than any other sports man so he thoroughly deserves it…

    1. He may deserve it but will he accept it as Kieth points out the many racial issues the Empire has created in the past.

      1. Well he has made his views clear on being British and his respect for the Royal Family throughout his career. And made that very clear just a month ago. I doubt he is going to change his mind after a few weeks.

        1. Precedent has never stopped Lewis from doing a 180° on hsi views of anything. So long as the new view is popular and trendy, I assume he will jump on the bandwagon.

          He waited 13 years to speak out on racial equality issues… He’s happy to wait until it’s safe and trendy to take a stand.

          He owned a private jet and used it a lot. Then being environmentally responsible became trendier than flaunting wealth, so he got rid of the jet or at least stopped posting pictures of it.

          1. Exactly.

    2. It’s not exactly an honour if you disagree with the very notion of the monarchy and perhaps the history of “The Empire”. I don’t think he would refuse it but if he did then that’s his prerogative.

    3. It is a tricky one. Lewis will sure struggle to decide between feeding his unquenchable appetite for attention and recognition with being able to engage in massive virtue signaling by turning down the knighthood. The way things are going I could actually see the latter winning. Lewis is all about promoting his personal brand, and that brand right now is about promoting whatever social issue is trendy.

      1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
        30th December 2020, 20:13

        Yes very true @ajpennypacker. I don’t think he will turn it down but he will make some kind of song and dance. Like his theatrics over Covid, saying he lost 4kg and would write a book about it one day (even though was clearly fine or else wouldn’t have been allowed to race one week later) in comparison to Checo just got on with it.

      2. Great passive aggressive post. Pity you don’t grow some and say what you really think of Lewis rather than snippey small man stuff. You only make yourself look weak and insecure. Which you are, clearly.

        1. I think there was no ambiguity about what I said. Perhaps it’s baffling to you, but disagreeing with someone doesn’t have to devolve into petty insults. Amusing and ironic to see you call me ‘weak and insecure’ when it was you who felt compelled to attack someone’s character merely based upon an anodine post in a public forum.

          1. You finds it amusing? Pleased to add some colour to your life, you can get back to sniping now. I dont think you have any character based on your post. Non, zip. nada.

      3. Lewis can’t do anything that you won’t critisise him for can he.

    4. Why should HE be knighted absolute joke😡😡

    5. Maybe read the article at least, then make a comment. He literally explains why.

  2. Well it’s up to Hamilton isn’t it, if it where me I’d say thanks but no. But after seeing the “Royal letters” about the dismissal of our elected government back in 75. I have zero time for the English royal Family, if they never come to Australia again it will be to soon!

  3. This is literally a debate nobody is having. I know it’s slow news season but this is pathetic. There is zero reason to stir this up apart from for clicks. It’s a sort of strange hybrid between the worst elements of the Guardian and Daily Mail all mixed in together as one.

    Give it a rest.

    1. You’re having it. Other people are. You don’t want to debate then can I make a suggestion….

    2. No, a tabloid would post a photo showing the subject with some kind of face expression… oh

    3. Spot on mate.

      1. +1 agreed. Let’s just wait and see what Lewis does and then we can discuss it if we really want. Responding to actual news etc.

  4. With that logic, Lewis might as well call it quits and disregard everything British, based on what happened hundreds of years ago. We’ve all moved on from that period of history; if everyone retrospectively considered the actions of our ancestors (whether you’re British, Japanese, German or whatever else) and applied that “education” to interpret the current geopolitical landscape, then we’re all going nowhere fast.

    Rejecting a knighthood achieves nothing, in the same way token social media posts to support a cause achieve nothing.

    I’m not a Lewis fan, nor a Royalist- very far from it, actually. However, I think Lewis achieved something great, and he should accept a well deserved knighthood. The only race that has anything to do with his achievements are Grand Prix.

  5. I’d turn it down but not because of racism. Racism is present today , it’s alive and well on these boards albeit underhand and in a cowardly way, I don’t refuse to read and pay for this site because it’s not directly from the proprierters and most posters are not racists thankfully. I’d turn it down because it’s elitism and mostly it goes to those who grease the palm of government. Not well deserving sports people and inspirational human beings but those who wish to get and stay rich and be seated at the top table. I’d be quite vocal at my refusal and I’d expect repurcussions. I don’t think Lewis is brave enough or stupid enough to turn it down but I think he should.

    1. Is there racism on here? No doubt. You can see it. You can also see the race card vitriol from those blinded (straps too tight on the kneepads?) directed at people on here who don’t see colour, but see a brand driven, petulant, hypocritical, man child flexing at every oportunity. It’s not that long removed the man shilling £30 veggie burgers using global warming as a marketing tool hook was flying his dog back and forth from LA every other week in a private jet, single handedly decimating every single person that comments here’s lifetime carbon emission on that alone. Emperor. Clothes. You know the rest.

      1. I don’t think you’re racist, you’ve not the balls. You hate a man you’ve never met and he happens to be ( half) black. In many situations where I live , attitudes like yours would be viewed with suspicion, at best. I’m prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt that you are desperately envious and you have decided you ‘ don’t like him’. Not because of his colour but because you are charged by the fact he doesn’t conform to how you think he should act. which for sure has some basis on your colour, and his. You only have to listen to the stuff Kimi gets away with and ‘we all laugh’ and ‘petulant’ Lewis doesn’t get away with, to know where people stand . I know where you ‘ stand’ and it’s not pretty.

        1. So are we not allowed to dislike or disagree with a public figure?

          I don’t hate anyone, but I’m no fan of Hamilton nor his antics, never have been. There are lots of other public figures that fit this bill, which I’m no fan off. Does that make me a racist?

          For example, I was never a fan of Michael Schumacher, in fact I used to dislike him because of his attitude on track. Considering that I would be what you’d call “BAME” in the UK, does that make me a racist?

          1. What ‘antics’ are you talking about? Like I say I dont think you are necessarily a racist, just you hold different views on people thru unconscious bias. Not your fault, im guilty of it, I despised MS in the day but his ‘antics’ were way way worse than anything Lewis has apparently done. The fact is black people are disproportionately criticised so if you get on that bus, expect people to make assumptions. Hes a tremendous sportsman, the rest of his character is just guess work on your part, and mine but im not the one pointing a finger and calling decisions he makes ‘antics’. Thats quite telling. If you dont know that you are pretty naïve.

        2. The man wears ARREST THE COPS THAT SHOT BRIONA TAYLOR shirts on the podium while taking sponsorship money for wearing POLICE® eyewear.

          I rest my case.

          1. It’s a brand name for sunglasses, there is no affiliation back to the US police force. I don’t understand your point unless you’re looking solely at the name of the brand itself.

          2. hahaha Police glasses are owned by the Police brilliant. You should rest more often Fred, it might help you get some knowledge. Most unintentionally funny post of the year. I hear he also like Stings old band. WHAT A HYPOCRITE Well done.. I hope turning 10 will bring you all you wished for

      2. The man wears ARREST THE COPS THAT SHOT BRIONA TAYLOR shirts on the podium while taking sponsorship money for wearing POLICE® eyewear.

        I rest my case.

        1. Lionel Hutz, is that you?

  6. Unless you’ve got some form of inside information on this, assuming that Hamilton would be made a KBE rather than a Knight Bachelor (by far the most common form of knighthood) seems remarkably presumptuous. Not all honours are given in the name of the Empire. (It’d be a bit ridiculous; most of them predate Britain having an Empire and some of them even predate Britain being one nation).

    1. Exactly. Saved me pointing this out! Knight Bachelor predates any empire by many centuries.

  7. Context is everything. These honours in modern times are not directly connected to the past, I don’t see why he should turn it down because of British behaviour in the past.

    I can see reasons to turn it down for other reasons (Michael Faraday springs to mind), but not because of this.

    1. @john-h

      To be fair, it’s part of modern leftist culture to apologize for the misdeeds by people in the past, so it requires no actual sacrifice or personal blame, but allows people to ‘prove’ that they are much better people than those in the past, even though their susceptibility to such cultural pressure suggests that they would have accepted historic norms, like slavery, as well.

      1. even though their susceptibility to such cultural pressure suggests that they would have accepted historic norms, like slavery, as well.

        It’s a misconception that slavery (as part of European colonization) was generally approved. It was opposed by many people, and from the outset, just not those in power. As for apologizing for the ‘misdeeds’ (murder, torture, rape, brutality in general) of other people in the past, it’s part of a recognition of the continuing effects of slavery in the present. That’s not ‘leftist,’ it’s a basic grasp of historical processes and how actions in the past continue to shape our world.

    2. Faraday turned it down because he felt it was in conflict with his principals, his beliefs.

      Could it not be that an understanding of the history of the British Empire leads to an similarly opposing set of principals and beliefs, but for entirely different reasons?

      1. No, I don’t think it is the same because the British empire does not currently exist, nor does it support slavery today @psynrg

        If the Queen were to come out today in support of slavery, then maybe it would be similar, but the UK has moved on somewhat. Faraday had a personal stance to his sense of self-importance (i.e. modesty in relation to his religion), and government behaviour I think towards chemical weapons. The latter was current to the time.

  8. I don’t think he should decline this. And he probably won’t given what he’s said about it in the past. But then, it is his choice to make, so whatever he chooses, it’s fine.

  9. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
    30th December 2020, 12:14

    By the time it gets to this stage of public awareness it’s already been accepted. Public refusals aren’t a good look.

  10. This year, Hamilton not only surpassed Schumacher in race wins and equalled him in World Championships. He also fought for the BLM movement, racial injustices in the world, equality, and the environment. Being knighted after this year, it can be interpreted as the Empire endorsing his stances, or at least not rejecting them outright.
    Sir Lewis Hamilton will continue fighting that fight with our without a knighthood, but being knighted might boost his presence and therefore increase his exposure, therefore exposing even more people to what he believes is just and right to fight for.

    1. This is in no way a dig at Britain but it may expose his beliefs in a positive way or with Lewis it could also backfire. All one has to do is a little research and you can find out that the British Empire shipped more slaves than any other nation to North America up until the early to mid 1800’s. If this was 2019 this article probably doesn’t have any mention of BLM in it but Lewis is one of the biggest supporters of the movement. Statues of slave traders are coming down all over the place and the perception may be that Lewis is a hypocrite getting touched on the shoulders by a family who probably still has money in the bank and assets from profits from the slave trade. I for one could care less.

      1. I don’t think the Queen is a racist. You can connect everything to everything if you go back far enough. Organisations and countries change over time, it’s what humans do.

        1. I don’t believe the current Queen is racist either.

          1. I think she is

        2. I know you don’t @canadianjosh but my point is that he would make a stance if the position of the UK monarchy today be one in support of slavery and racism, which it clearly isn’t.

        3. @john-h
          I don’t know about the Queen. However, from what I know Prince Philip used to made controversial comments in public that can be considered sometimes to be racist and he couldn’t care less.

    2. Indeed, somewhat like when Steve McQueen accepted it.

  11. The UK obviously has a racist history, like any nation, but later on, it really tried to eliminate slavery. For example, the British tried to eliminate slavery in Sudan, against the wishes of the local rulers. In fact, it’s not even clear if Sudan even rejects slavery today. In 1999, their prime minister still argued in favor of slavery. Their ruler who appointed that prime minister and backed slave-trading militias in the Second Sudanese Civil War, has only recently been coup d’état’ed.

    This article brings up Mpanga, who rejected an MBE because of the bad that British did to his parents’ country of Uganda (but what about the good?), but ignores that slavery is still a significant issue in Uganda. For example, there are public slave markets in Uganda:

    Instead of going after symbols that you claim represent racism (if so, largely due to propaganda), why not try to do some actual good, rather than mere virtue signaling?

    1. Jose Lopes da Silva
      30th December 2020, 12:47

      Fully agree. Moreover, by accepting knighthood, Hamilton will be in a good position to make his views more widely accepted and mainstream. He will be creating bridges, rather than cutting them off. It’s different to have a Knight stating that there are some biased police brutality around.

      1. Ultimately, knighthoods and such are a tool of power that the (current) elite uses to gain favors in various ways. This is why they granted one of the highest forms of knighthood to the corrupt genocidal communist dictator Mugabe, since they wanted a trade agreement and otherwise to gain his favor, while far better people who do things outside of the ‘system’ either get low-ranking knighthoods or no recognition.

        A large part of the value of a knighthood is that it tells the elite to take the person seriously. So the best reason to accept or reject a knighthood is probably that you want to be accepted and listened to by the elite or conversely, don’t want to be seen as being part of or in league with them. Rejecting or accepting it based on moral considerations, rather than the power it gives you, means that you either don’t understand the actual purpose, or are signaling to people who don’t understand it.

      2. Exactly! Believe me as black brit, I know that real change is made from the inside fighting out, not the other way around

        If he wants to be taken seriously as an inspiration he accepts the knighthood and uses it for even greater good

        1. @banbrorace

          Couldn’t agree more

          1. Well said, Broderick Harper! I hope Lewis Hamilton accepts the knighthood and then has more power to influence racism issue around the world.

    2. This is by far the best, most considered post on this topic. Well done.

  12. I’m still waiting for John Surtees – who, uniquely, managed to be a World champion in F1 and bikes – to get his knighthood. And he didn’t scarper off to avoid paying tax.

    1. It’s really not difficult to find out that Lewis is one of the top 5000 UK tax payers. This argument was killed off long ago, do keep up old boy.

    2. Are you talking about jenson Button or Couthard or Jackie Stewart because I know Lewis is in the top 3000 tax payers in the Uk. Substantiate or be quiet