The Scandal Of Formula 1 Motor Racing
By Vidyadhar Date
30 October, 2011
There are no footpaths for pedestrians in most parts of India and the roads are full of potholes even in Mumbai, the financial capital of India. Yet, the Indian elite is patting itself on the back for creating a sophisticated track for the much hyped Formula 1 car racing at Noida near Delhi.
Roads are so bad in the Mumbai region that a woman was killed after she fell off a motor bike last week in a pothole near Badlapur. Worse, the police charged her son with causing her death by negligence. Only a public furore has now led the authorities to withdraw the case against the son and begin an inquiry against officers who registered a complaint against him.
The sports establishment in India is denying elementary sports facilities to the masses even while it is neck deep in corruption and incompetence. Far from making amends it has embarked on Formula 1 car racing, a form of entertainment associated with male chauvinism, fascism and bribery.
The management of India’s sports lies completely exposed with the glaring corruption of the Commonwealth Games, the shameful defeat suffered by the country’s Test cricket team in England and the doping scandal of prominent athletes.
The Indian elite had laughably sought to use the victory in World Cup cricket to gain some prestige . It was ridiculous because only a handful of countries play cricket. But even that little ace to gloss over its abject failure on all fronts is gone now with the rout in England.
So India could not even qualify to participate in the World Cup competition for the most important and popular game of football. But it has enough resources to lavish on the extravagant and environmentally degrading enterprise of car racing. Formula 1 cannot even be called a sport, as Mr M. S. Gill, former union sports minister and former chief election commissioner, argued some time ago . The Formula 1 racing is full of scandals.
Many politicians see Formula 1 as a glamorous event that would mark India’s arrival as a modern nation in the international arena.. So several chief ministers from different states at different times including Sushilkumar Shinde in Maharashtra, Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh, and Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana went out of their way to woo Formula bosses.. Even the CPM-led government in West Bengal had taken a keen interest in the project in 2001 and had in fact set up a motor sports council for the project and allocated 850 acres of land.
And it is a cruel irony that the racing circuit in Noida is named Buddh International after Gautam Buddha whose ancient philosophy is the ultimate negation of the blatant consumer culture of greed and speed that Formula 1 represents.
Another irony is that the project was initiated by Suresh Kalmadi, the disgraced former union sports minister and president of the Indian Olympic Association and the face of corruption in the Commonwealth Games. He announced suddenly in 2007 IOA’s decision to fastrack the Indian elite’s ambition to host Formula 1 racing in India.
The announcement had taken even the racing industry by surprise and Vicki Chandhok, the motor sport chief in India wondered where the huge funds for the project would come from.
Kalmadi had promised to elicit support from the central and state governments to construct the circuit and his family members were associated with the commercial company which entered into an agreement for its construction.
Formula 1 car racing is involved in numerous scandals and has a strong anti-democratic character.. Its management has had links to fascism. Mr Bernie Ecclestone, the 81 year old chief of Formula 1, openly said in 2009 that he preferred totalitarian regimes to democracies and he praised Adolf Hitler, the German dictator, for his ability to get things done.
In an interview with The Times he endosrsed the concept of a government based on tyranny. He is also known for his remarks against Jews and women. The mansion at Kensington Palace Gardens, in which Lakshmi Mittal lives, was bought by the steel tycoon from Ecclestone. That is the physical and mental world these people inhabit.
Ecclestone’s donation to the Labour party of England led to the government’s controversial decision to lift the ban on sponsorship from tobacco companies for car racing in 1997. Subsequently, the European Union banned tobacco sponsorship of motor racing But Ferrari, the motor company, which is a major player in Formula 1, has a huge sponsorship agreement upto 2015 with Philip Morris, the tobacco major, manufacturer of the Marlborough brand.
This has drawn strong protests from the health industry. Mr John Britton, one of the most eminent physicians, urged the British government to inquire into the deal and asked BBC to consider if it is appropriate to screen Formula 1 racing while the Ferrari car carries a bar code that reminds television viewers of Marlborough cigarettes.
Under the 2002 legislation passed in London and Bruseels it is an offence for a cigarette company to sponsor any sporting event.
It is strange that Sachin Tendulkar , the cricket superstar, is joining in promoting such a hugely expensive project of car racing which is increasingly anachronistic in the context of rising fuel prices, pollution and global warming. He was involved in a major controversy over the import of his Ferrari racing car for which the government waived duty after much lobbying by him. Recently, he sold the sports car to a businessman from Gujarat which is a bit odd considering that it was supposed to be a gift to him from Schumacher, the former Formula 1 champion in 2002. Tendulkar is now partnering Sheikh al Makhtoum of Dubai and U.S.-based Anjana Reddy to host an Indian racing league.
Formula 1 is a hideousy corrupt, gredy and deeply sinister business, wrote Katherine Butler, a senior journalist, in the Independent (14 June,2011) after watching a film on the legendary Formula 1 champion Ayrton Senna , who died in a car crash during the Grand Prix in 1994. Incidentally,the film is directed by Asif Kapadia, a Britisher of Indian origin and the script is written by Manish Pandey, an NRI from England trained as a surgeon.
Car races have proved to be white elephants in many countries . Similar is the experience with huge stadiums built for Olympics and other big events which later lie unused after gobbling enormous public funds. Formula 1 circuits are hideously expensive and involve huge logistics including special facilities at airports for transport of the racing cars. Sepang in Malaysia has parking space for 13,000 cars. Grabbing of such a huge space for cars is completely unjustified in an environment where public spaces are shrinking rapidly in urban areas in India. Even in Austin, Texas, there is strong criticism of spending money on the track under construction when there is not enough money to fund schools. More alarmingly, it is now proposed to conduct races on streets in New Jersey.
The Formula 1 bosses have also come in for criticism for showing insensitivity towards human rights violations by the ruling class in Bahrain in the wake of the recent pro-democracy protests.
Despite great unrest in the country, the organisers wanted to go ahead with the races in Bahrain. And it was only public pressure that compelled them to postpone the races to next year. Even doctors and nurses treating the injured in the protests had been arrested. Nearly 30 protesters had been killed.
Indian authorities seem no less cynical. As if the Delhi racing track is not enough, Maharashtra wants to have its own. The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) is looking for a plot of some 400 to 500 acres in and around Mumbai which looks extremely skewed considering that the metropolis lacks space for basic amenities. And is it the job of the MSRDC to promote racing tracks for the display of international capital and the latest brands of super fast cars ?
Vijay Mallya, the ultimate hedonist, `the king of good times’, liquor baron and car racing promoter, demanded some time ago that Rajpath , the major landmarks in New Delhi, be used for car racing. This represents the ultimate invasion and domination of roads by the automobile lobby as no space is being left for the pedestrian to walk on. Not surprisingly, India accounts for the highest road deaths in the world and most victims are pedestrians. Building tracks for super fast racing is particularly weird in a country where roads for daily transport are full of pot holes which daily make front page news.
The Formula 1 track in Shanghai is highly underutilised and the man who promoted the project in China was jailed in 2008 for embezzelling public funds.
Response to formula 1 racing has been lukewarm even in South Korea though it is a big manufacturer of cars. Ticket rates have been slashed there to attract viewers.
The venue in Noida, designed by specialist architect Hermann Tilke, will have capacity to seat 150,000 spectators. The whole exercise looks cruelly farcical as there is little public interest in car racing in India except in a few pockets. The project is being strongly resisted by villagers in the vicinity as it has disrupted their lives. Children now have to trudge for several miles to reach school or have to take a long bus ride. People in the area lack adequate electricity or water .The racing track and a luxurious `sports city’ coming up in an area of some 2500 acres with a golf course and tennis courts will grab all the resources. The tickets at a minimum of Rs 2500 per person are far beyond the capacity of an average Indian but in the words of the organisers they are modestly priced.
` India’s formula 1 track brings fast living and social disarray to villagers’ the heading of a recent report in the Guardian ( August 14,2011) , sums up the ethos in the area. Some farmers have become rich with the sale of their land and have acquired fast cars but now without their land they do not know how to make a living and soon will be without any source of livelihood.
Formula 1 racing is never short of scandals. The driver of a Renault car was asked to crash his car sometime ago in the Singapore grand prix so that his team mate would gain advantage. The Renault team was subsequently suspended from participation for two years. . It is a sport no more. The poison has seeped from every pore of the sport. Formua 1 is a waste of money, it is noisy, tedious, vulgar and trash, Mary Ann Sieghart, a commentator, wrote in the Sunday Times (21 March, 2008).
The motor car has been one of the main engines driving capitalism in the Western world for the last several decades and speed is crucial to a competitive society. And what better way to display and assert the power and alleged superiority of capitalism than through this racing which has a big impact worldwide on television. Sadly, car racing is one of the most popular events on television and the eyeballs it commands make it crucial to the promotion of consumerism, advertising and capitalism. Paul Sweezy has dealt with the political economy of the car in a fine essay in Monthly Review of April, 1973.
Paul Virilio, the French philosopher and author of the book Speed and Politics, says the more speed increases, the greater freedom decreases. What drives our technocratic society is militarism and speed. The so called progress is terrifying.
He coined the word Dromocracy based on the Greek word dromo which means race. He says Dromocracy is the power to rule by speed. So speed is one of the instruments by which the rich subjugate, dominate the poor. The rich and powerful create an aura among people about their technological superiority, their dominance.
Car racing is increasingly associated with greed, globalisation and fascism and it is run by unscrupulous people. It is a game in which vast sums can be made without many questions being asked, commented the Guardian (12 March, 2009).
It is this pursuit of new markets for car racing as well as consumer markets and catching television eye balls that car racing is being cynically promoted in various countries where there is little interest the game. That is why Greece, while staggering currently under its economic crisis, has agreed to launch formula 1 racing in the country obviously under pressure from the automobile lobby.
Car racing is also marked by male chauvinism and has sought to discourage women drivers. A girl with big boobs would never be comfortable in a racing car, can you imagine a mechanic strapping her, said racing driver Jenson Butt.
The sexist and male chauvinist world of Formula 1 is portrayed in detail by Beverley Turner , a former television presenter of car racing, in her book Pits – the real world of Formula One. She quotes David Coulthord, a former Formula 1 champion, as saying that women do not have the right attitude to become race drivers. He was the man who drove at breakneck speed on the Bandra Worli sea link in Mumbai in 2009 at the inauguration of the second phase of the bridge. This completely defied an agreement on speed but he offered no apology.
The Mumbai police present in full strength at the ceremony took no action when he drove his Red Bull F I car at 260 km per hour making a mockery of the 50 km limit. The event was used by the racing lobby for the promotion of Formula 1 culture in India. This is not surprising considering that neoliberalism wants this culture.
Vidyadhar Date (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffin in the era of climate change - Walking, Cycling, Public Transport need priority.
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