Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pit stop in poverty raises questions of value

NEW DELHI: They screech in on private jets and party with the rich and famous, but Formula One's pampered drivers admit the poverty in India has given them a reality check.

Although the brand new Buddh International Circuit is ready for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, the plush facilities cannot hide the slums outside.

Britain's Jenson Button said coming to India was 'difficult' for the drivers, who have been stunned at the living conditions glimpsed outside their luxury hotels.

'You can't forget the poverty in India,' he said.

'It's difficult coming here for the first time, you realise there's a big divide between the wealthy people and the poor people.

'Hopefully the race here is going to help everyone. It's good to see that we've got a lot of workers here and hopefully that's helping them out in terms of making their life a little bit easier.'

German double world champion Sebastian Vettel caught his first glimpse of Indian life on the 200km drive from New Delhi to the Taj Mahal, and he said it was a humbling experience.

'It definitely brings your feet back on the ground in many ways and makes you understand a lot of things,' he said.

'It's an inspiration and makes you appreciate things you take for granted.'

The jarring spectacle of lavish Formula One coming to Greater Noida, a dusty satellite of New Delhi, has prompted some disquiet.

'I feel very bad because such business has nothing to do with 99 per cent of Indians. It is a criminal waste,' said former Olympic hurdler P.T. Usha, who runs an athletics academy for young Indian women.

'First, Twenty20 cricket spoiled the spirit of Indian sports, and now here comes another avatar which will mostly attract corporate money, who rarely spend for sports promotion. Only God can save Indian sports.'

Shooter Gagan Narang said F1 was out of reach for the vast majority of Indians, as witnessed when organisers had to slash ticket prices to try to fill the 120,000-capacity circuit.

'Let's face it that the sport is not for everyone and only people with money will have access,' he said, according to the Economic Times.

Button's McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton said Indian fans had shown a passion for F1 - which could translate into big profits for the sport.

'They're incredibly fanatical about it, they're crazy about F1,' he said. 'The energy that I've got from the fans from coming here has been mesmerising.

'They were so excited to see me or touch me or whatever, they were coming over the fences. It was really quite special. I hope we get the same reaction here.'