Sports defines Melbourne. With one of the sporting world’s most historic venues — the MCG for cricket, the state-of-the-art Telstra Dome for Australian Rules football and the Flinders Park for the Australian Open, the rugged Albert Park — venue for the Australian Grand Prix — doesn’t capture the imagination as much.
No wonder the crowd that sauntered into the stands to watch Friday’s practice session was sparse and the stands wore a bare look all through the day. For once you realise that all’s not well with this venue, which boasts of the most modern racetrack.
The organisers had to ward off protests from an environmentalist body — Save Albert Group — which wanted the race to be held at some other venue. Then the issue of mounting losses cropped up in the Victorian parliament, and reports are that the ruling Labour government doesn’t seem to fancy this track.
“There’s been a lot of talk about taxpayers’ money going waste and I’m afraid we might just lose the GP after 2010,” said a local official on condition of anonymity. “But the fact is the government is not counting the revenues that come with an F-1 race…tourism, etc.”
So, is night race a solution to make the sport more spectator-friendly? “Not really, because the lighting would be expensive. There’s a company which is willing to do it for Aus $ five million. But it’s a bit unrealistic. Logically, it shouldn’t cost below $15-20 million and that's a lot. So, sandwiched between Bernie’s ambitious plans and the government’s indifference, the Australian GP might just hit a corner.
Also, Australia is pretty far from the tourism point of view — and hot too. Trouble looms ahead.