There has been considerable confusion with regard to the official status of Formula 1 as far as the Indian government is concerned. Ever since former sports minister MS Gill labelled the sport as entertainment over two years ago, many interpreted it as the government's official stance.
However, present incumbent Ajay Maken has no ambiguity on the issue. "The Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI) has been recognised by the ministry for many years now. Motorsports in also listed as a sport recognised by the government in the latest draft of the sports bill," explains Maken. Schedule I of the proposed bill lists 66 disciplines that meet government approval.
The Airtel Indian GP could anyway not have gone ahead without a 'no objection' certificate from the various government departments. "The permission was given with the condition that there would be no tax or duty exemption. This is being done as it is a private body that is holding the event."
The ministry has also charged organisers Jaypee Group a sum of Rs100 crore at the rate of ten per year as sanctioning fee. "This money will go into the National Sports Development Fund. Since each contribution to the fund is matched by the Finance Ministry, we will have a corpus of Rs20 crore. The first year we will use this to help build a hockey academy at the National Stadium."
It has been reliably learnt that big-ticket events like the Indian Premier League may also have to pay a similar amount in the future. The funds will, again, support Olympic sport.
The minister is well aware of the ripple effect of F1. "Such an event has a positive spin off for the economy and there is also a sizable tourism inflow. If it has the requisite permission from other departments, why would we object to it?"
Maken's take on the issue was "refreshing" for Vicky Chandhok, the president of FMSCI. "Our drivers have toiled and sweated enough for racing to be seen as a genuine sport. I see the Minister's stand as a welcome new beginning. I would now also urge him to consider achievements in motorsports for the national sports awards."
"I am glad that the minister has cleared the air. This is a positive step towards the growth of the sport. Anyway, we lose nearly three kgs because of sweat in each race and require fitness levels of a top athlete to be able to keep the car on the track for over one-and-half hours - you bet it's a serious sport!" said India's F1 pioneer Narain Karthikeyan.
"Given its high-risk nature, people can die in motorsport. That's serious business, not entertainment."