Kaieteur News – Motor racing in Guyana has always been intertwined with politics and economics. In the 1970s when the sport was in its heyday, the oil crisis struck and forced a stoppage to the hosting of race meetings.
High fuel costs and the economic crisis which hit were major factors in the decline on the sport until the 1990’s. Spare parts were costly. Even if they could be sourced, it would have been difficult to obtain the foreign exchange to procure them. The cost of petrol would have also been a factor in the decline of the sport but this would have affected spectators more than the racers since the majority of the racers in the 1970s, belonged to the bourgeois class.
On the other hand, public transportation was affected by the economic crisis. The fleet of government buses began to breakdown. Finding spares was problematic with the result that many buses became inoperable. The private hire cars also suffered as a result of the shortage of spares and the scarcity of foreign exchange.
Working class fans of motor racing would have been challenged financially to afford the cost of transportation to go to the races. And those who could afford, had to make a choice between spending on gas and transportation or spending on food.
The economic crisis therefore was a major factor in the decline of the sport. Conversely, the improvements in the economy in the late 1980s and 1990s would account for the resurgent popularity of motor racing.
But political factors also played a part in the decline of motor racing. After the economy went into free fall, the middle and bourgeois class migrated in droves. This logically had a dampening effect on the sport. But it is widely known also that Burnham did not wish to encourage motor racing.
Burnham saw the sport as class-biased in favour of the rich. This was at odds with his socialist philosophy. His agenda was to crush the bourgeois class which he knew would oppose his socialist policies.
Burnham banished horseracing to the countryside for the same reason because the horse owners were mainly from the rich. And the poor were the spectators and the attendants and jockeys.
He discouraged motor racing for the same reasons. Given the intervention of the oil crisis, it is doubtful whether he would have given permission for anyone from overseas to bring in their cars for motor racing purposes.
Motor racing was revived under the Hoyte regime because Hoyte was forced to move the country in a different direction. Motor racing became more popular under the post-Janet Jagan presidency since the bourgeois class had by then began to penetrate deeply into the relations of power.
Today, motor racing is highly popular and derives economic benefits for the country. Whenever there is an international motor racing meeting at the South Dakota Circuit, hundreds of Guyanese, racers and fans alike, visit Guyana to attend the meet. The hotels and entertainment houses do thriving business.
The sport is now very popular among the working class who fawn over the multimillionaires with their expensive and powerful machines. Working class Guyanese can now afford to attend race meetings in larger numbers. And they do attend. But that does not disguise the fact that this is a sport of the rich since it is mainly the rich who can afford the sort of vehicles, support staff and cost of participating as racers.
Motor racing is a major boost to the economy. This cannot be denied. But at a time of spiralling fuel and the astronomical rise in freight, motor racing is also a prohibitive drain on the economy.
Fuel prices are at their highest ever in the country’s history. And this is after the government would have removed all the excise taxes on fuel. One person has said that the cost of importing a container rose from a pre-pandemic US$7,000 to US$20,000.
Importing racing vehicles, parts and having to provide fuel and lubricants utilises precious foreign exchange. And the racing cars are guzzlers of fuel. This has a cost too to the economy. The economic benefits of hosting meetings are more than offset by the economic costs caused by the rising fuel prices.
Persons attending the races also have to spend on gasoline to attend the race meetings. Given the thousands of fans in attendance, and the fact that the races are held some 25 miles outside of the city, this too has a cost to the spectators and to the economy.
So should motor racing be discouraged at this time on economic grounds? Taxpayers are effectively subsidising the cost of fuel. This subsidy helps to check higher increases in the price of petrol and transportation.
But should this subsidy be applied to benefit motor racing? Should there not be a halt to this sport until the fuel crisis subsides?
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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