Ten years ago, India made its mark on the world motorsport map with the inaugural Indian Grand Prix Formula One race in 2011, which ran for three years at the Buddh International Circuit.
The Indian GP was an audacious effort from a private enterprise with little government support. The Jaypee group, which built the circuit, promoted the race before it hit financial troubles, leading to Formula One dropping the country with two years left in the contract.
During its run, the Grand Prix also got mired in various issues, from customs clearance for bringing the cars and parts to taxation when motorsports was not even considered a sport and was instead classified as entertainment.
The bureaucracy did not help matters with the red tape frustrating everyone as there was very little State support for the event.
Earlier this year, a big-ticket motorsport event returned when Hyderabad hosted a round of the FIA Formula E championship around the city’s streets, with the local government being heavily involved in bringing the race. While Formula E is a world championship event, it started only in 2014, and there are already doubts if it will happen next year.
But next week, India has another chance to host a high-profile motorsport event when Moto GP, the premier two-wheeler racing series, makes its entrance with the inaugural Grand Prix of Bharat at the BIC in Greater Noida.
Like F1 was, this event is also being promoted by a private enterprise — Fairstreet Sports. But unlike the Formula One experience, the race has the blessings of both the Uttar Pradesh and the Union governments, which should help in areas like logistics and visas, for example.
But how did the whole thing come to be about? The Hindu recently caught up with Pushkar Nath Srivastava, the chief operating officer of Fairstreet Sports. The promoters have signed a seven-year deal to host a round of the prestigious championship that started in 1949, one year before Formula One.
“Our team has been part of the World SuperBike championship in 2013 and 14. We went racing for two years, and MotoGP acquired the series. My partner Amit Sandill stayed with the racing arena and moved to Europe, where we saw MotoGP from close quarters,” said Srivastava
“So in 2019, when the government classified motorsport as a sport, it was a major step. We started studying what F1 did and didn’t and what we should and shouldn’t do as well. We started reading the judgments and did our homework for two years, and then we realised this is probably the best thing to do,” said Srivastava.
The next step was to convince Dorna, the commercial rights holder for Moto GP. While Dorna was confident with the organisers’ ability, it wanted to know how much the government would support the efforts, having seen what F1 went through.
“They came to meet the UP CM Yogi Adityanath and the Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakuar and quickly realised they were passionate about Moto GP. With that, the approval and compliance process got very smooth, with the Sports Ministry becoming our single-touch point alongside the UP Govt. We got all our NOCs on time and didn’t have to keep running from one office to another.”
Though India is the biggest two-wheeler market, with more than 15 million bikes sold yearly, Moto GP has taken time to come to the country.
“No one was able to convince them before this. We did our study and convinced them how it can be done. We told them you should look at the Indian market to increase your numbers. After the race announcement, Moto GP has more followers on Facebook in India than F1 has. At the end of the day, every house has a bike and a bat,” Srivastava explained.
It is here that the government’s decision to classify motorsport as a sport did wonders. “Now that the federation (FMSCI) is recognised as well, the global federation (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme) talks to our federation, which then talks to the Sports Ministry. Things like processing visas have become easy because the ministry recognises the federation.”
The core issue during F1’s three-year visit was with taxation, as teams had to pay a portion of their revenue earned since India was one of the 19 or 20 events on the calendar.
When asked how the organisers are dealing with it, Srivastava said, “They (F1) didn’t know how Indian taxation worked, and it was a mindset problem because they sold the broadcasting rights and other things.
“So, for MotoGP, we are taking care of selling broadcasting rights to Jio Cinema, and similarly, we are also handling some sponsorships. So, we generate revenue, and we pay the taxes in the right way. It was also a mindset change for Dorna to let go of certain things, and we convinced them that we can handle some things better.”
The Formula One Indian GP was an audacious effort from a private enterprise with little government support
The Jaypee Group, which built the circuit and promoted the race, hit financial troubles, leading to Formula One dropping the country from the calendar
The government’s decision to classify motorsport as a sport, from the earlier classification of entertainment, in 2019 has worked wonders in bringing Moto GP to the country
After having lost F1 and uncertainties around Formula E, a lot rides on MotoGP
While some logistical stuff has been smoothed out, there were issues regarding the track itself. The Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA) took over the land on which the circuit was built after the Jaypee Group failed to pay its dues, though it maintains the facility. The problem meant there were some issues in doing the essential repairs to the track to make it suitable for bike racing and needing clarification over which party would do it.
Things were eventually sorted out, with organisers footing the bill to repair the track. “The track had some challenges, and we met the CM and told him we wanted to bring MotoGP, and they helped us immediately. So we partnered with Jaypee and the government, and both gave us the required NOC to do the work on the track. Jaypee was open-minded and keen to bring a big event and is partnering with us. It is a shame to see such a great property not being used,” said Srivastava.
Across the world, countries provide state funding to bring motorsport events to promote local tourism. While it is a tough sell to use public funds in a low-income country like India with more pressing needs, there seems to be a change in mindset at the government level to at least make it easier to hold such events without direct state funding.
After having lost F1 and uncertainties around Formula E, a lot rides on MotoGP. A third strike could be a massive dent to the country’s image and make other series wary of coming here yet again.
But with just ten days to go, Srivastava is confident of pulling off a great event that can stay on the calendar. “This a great chance to showcase what UP and India offer. More than 200 countries watch MotoGP. Recently, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about following the Qatar model of using sport to promote tourism, and it warmed our hearts to hear that at a time when we are doing that.”
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