Why F1 is a sport for everyone other than the government

For every Indian motorsport fan the fact that we are hosting a Formula One Grand Prix next month is truly a dream come true for one and all. This is truly a depiction of what India has achieved as a nation and our impact globally.

F1 supremo Bernie Eccelstone has been keen on India to have a GP for a long time as he has always believed our nation will be one of the most important and powerful players in the world of business, sport and culture and this does send out a strong message.

F1 has always been a more of a European-based sport but the last decade has seen a dynamic shift with more races being held outside Europe. F1 has expanded to China, Singapore, Turkey, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and now India.

I think the important thing to point out here is that the races being held in these countries are all supported by their respective governments, except for India of course (and the British GP which is supported by BRDC). The Jaypee group (JPSI), promoters of the Indian GP, have taken on the arduous task of hosting the race, which includes working with the government on a number of elements, and must be commended for the same.

The F1 circus is a logistical nightmare with tonnes of equipment having to be transferred from country to country and all in the space of two weeks. With each country having different laws for customs, excise duty, tax, entertainment etc you can see why it is important to have the government’s support as they have to clear all these things.

 Why F1 is a sport for everyone other than the government

McLaren Formula One driver Hamilton stands in front of picture of race car during promotional event in New Delhi in 2009. Reuters

Thus race promoters have had to rely heavily on the local government help in order to make events cost-effective. This brings us to the problems facing the Indian GP – the government. The Indian ministry absurdly stated couple of years ago that F1 is not purely sports -- that it is entertainment and this venture is a commercial initiative which brought about a furore by all motorsport fans.

The basic premise of the ministry was that F1 is not needed in India and the money can be spent on development of other sports which have a wider base in the country. This is completely untrue and an insult to all the motor racing drivers and riders in the country.

Motorsports has the three essentials any sport has – physical aspect, mental aspect and most importantly the talent. It is not a question about just driving a car, there is so much more that goes into it; the drivers train harder than any other sportsman, and have to be mentally strong, as in any other top sport, but that for another day.

F1 driver Karun Chandhok put it simply across to me, “Fitness for motorsport is a fairly underestimated, misunderstood and generally ignored subject. For example my swim sessions are generally between 2000 – 2500 metres and the cycle rides are close to 120 km a day.”

And I don’t think he is doing this for entertainment, he is doing it for the sport he absolutely loves. He is not alone as all the F1 drivers do the same.

The complaints coming up about the race is that the government is making it harder than normal in various departments, namely the tax and customs department. Unlike this year’s cricket World Cup or last year’s CWG, which were given ‘ national importance’ status by the sports ministry, the Indian GP has not been granted the same gradation and hence JPSI are expected to pay the duty for stuff like F&B, tyres, engine which will be imported for the race. The value floating around for this is ranging from Rs. 150cr to Rs. 600cr.

The tax row centred on the legislation which would make teams and driver pay a tax bill for portion of their income, potentially taking 1/19th of their income because India is one of the 19 races on the calendar. The government exempted this year’s cricket World Cup from income tax and also granted special tax exemption on income to residents and non-residents alike gained from international sporting events in India in 2006, when the country hosted the ICC Champions Trophy cricket tournament.

So why is F1 not being dealt the same hand? Luckily for the racing fans, JPSI has stepped in and have agreed to pay any outstanding customs duties and tax dues thereby ensuring that the race will go on no matter what.

Once again this will all be made easier if the Sports Ministry just accepts that Formula One is a sport, which it is. The fact that Formula One is considered a rich man’s sport is total nonsense as it is like calling the IPL the same due to all the money associated with the same. Formula One had a total global television audience of 527 million people during the course of the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship and is the most watched sport globally, only after football.

Next month’s Indian GP is going to be a huge success, with or without the help of the government, but it would be great if they could lend a helping hand, without expecting anything in return.

Updated Date: Sep 23, 2011 18:16:30 IST