If they don’t have bread, why don’t they eat cake? The French queen Marie Antoinette’s infamous words might have been recalled by NOIDA’s working class, as they witnessed the Formula One spectacle unfold at the Buddh International Circuit at Greater NOIDA.
Why did India’s elite suddenly awaken to motor sports, which evolved in Europe and USA into a race of manufacturer giants and some private entrepreneurs known as privateers of the racing circuit? What prompted Mayawati’s Uttar Pradesh Government, bogged down in corruption scandals and facing the challenges of an upcoming assembly election, to provide special tax benefits to an elite sport? The Buddh International Circuit, set up at the cost of around Rs 1500 crores, may meet international standards but is futile for any promising Indian driver’s practice session!
Ahead of the London Olympics, Indian athletes, swimmers and the hockey team are struggling to meet international standards due to lack of facilities at Sports Authority of India campuses. The Sports Ministry spends a bare minimum on sports infrastructure in the annual budget. Ace athletes PT Usha and Milkha Singh were right to contrast the standard of the athletics tracks in district, state and national level meets, with the cosmetic glory of the first Formula One circuit.
Ex-skipper of the Indian football team Bhaichung Bhutia remarked, “I am skeptical about the future of Formula One in India. Asked my opinion about the new sports bill, I have spoken about the conditions prevailing in football: the atrocious ground conditions, resulting in injuries that can ruin players’ careers; the fact that we are forced to play in the afternoon in the months of March to May due to lack of floodlight facility.”
But the Sports Ministry’s priorities are skewed and biased. It now talks of sports tourism, leaving the issue of infrastructure to the mercies of corporate giants like Ferrari (that launched its sports car an year back in India) or Vijaya Mallya (the owner of Force India, the Indian F-1 team).
Sebestian Vettel, the winner of the inaugural race at BIC, burns 2 lakh litres of fuel per season, including the practice sessions. And this is true for every Formula One driver. As India’s aam aadmi struggles with petroleum price rise, and the cut-back on the number of subsidised gas cylinders to a meagre four, the spectacle of the fuel-guzzling super sport can only be painful.
After Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna’s mysterious death on the track, certain eyewash measures have been taken to ensure security of the drivers on the track where any accident could be fatal. This resulted in the end of a long tyre war, with Bridgestone emerged as the sole leader in the market of racing car tyres, and the cost of hosting a Grand Prix reached astronomical heights. The prolonged crises of western capitalism took its toll on Formula One, as America failed to meet the financial obligation of hosting it. With European countries in a debt crisis, the future of F-1 in the West became temporarily uncertain. China hosted her first race seven years back on a brand new track at Shanghai, but has shown little interest since then. Now who else can bail out F-1 but India?!
After hosting the first edition, the idea of another money-spinning machine like the IPL has been already ratified. Shahrukh Khan, Vijay Mallya and AIRTEL India are willing to own a team in the new gladiators’ league. While public transport, as well as basic sports infrastructure languishes in neglect, and poor youth are denied access to sports facilities, corporate giants hungry for profits peddle a sport that relies more on technological advancement rather than athleticism, physical labour, individual skill or team game.