The government’s movement control order, enacted to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease, has severely impacted businesses and livelihoods during its six-week period. As we enter the final week (with yet another extension still possible, of course) of staying at home, questions now arise on whether life can resume as normal, and how soon.
Among the industries affected by the order is motorsports. It’s obviously not an essential service, and as such, events have been cancelled not just in Malaysia, but also around the world – practically grounding the 2020 racing calendar. And with no events, sponsorships are also drying up, and organisers, teams, drivers, riders and workshops are left with little to no income from their usual sources.
To support these businesses and individuals, a group of motorsports organisers, including Malaysian Cub Prix promoter Two Wheels Motor Racing (TWMR), the Malaysia Speed Festival (MSF) and Axle Motorsport, held a video press conference urging the government to allow motor racing events to be held – even behind closed doors and without spectators, to slow the spread of the virus – once the order lifts on April 28.
The group said that while it agreed people need to stay home during the order, the situation regarding large-scale sporting events post-MCO remains unclear, with director-general of health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham earlier saying that the government may still discourage mass gatherings for the next six months or one year. “This is a real big concern for the industry,” said TWMR promotions director Ron Hogg.
Unlike other forms of sport, motorsport events do not usually receive grants from the government, relying almost entirely on sponsorships from larger companies, said the group. It also dismissed the notion that motor racing – an industry estimated to be worth nearly RM100 million locally – is a sport only for the rich, adding that it involves numerous businesses and individuals from all walks of life, the livelihoods of which are now being threatened by the lack of events.
“Over 800 people are directly involved in four-wheeled national-level motorsports, and these people work for teams and workshops and mostly find their livelihoods within the motorsports industry – whether it’s preparing cars, running teams, training drivers and so on,” said MSF principal Adian Yein Khalid. “So there is a significant effect from not being able to be continue due to Covid-19.”
For the money to continue flowing, events need to take place, and the group was concerned there would be possible restrictions on the number of people allowed at events even after the order lifts. “Please understand that motorsports events operate on a total different level than, for example, hosting a badminton match in a hall, where all you need are a few players, a referee, an umpire and linesmen.” said Hogg.
“Even if we cut down to bare minimum numbers, we have 160 participants per weekend, and if each participant has two to three crew members, that’s 500 people just in the paddock itself. If you are organising an event in Sepang, there are over 200 marshals, plus all the ancillary people needed to keep the show running – broadcasters, medical personnel, etcetera. So you are looking at close to 1,000 people.”
While that seems like a high number for a single event, the group said these people would be spread out over a large area – at least at the Sepang Circuit – so organisers can practice adequate social distancing if necessary. “Unlike being in a hall or a stadium where everyone is packed together, people are spread out over 200 acres in Sepang, so there is social distancing involved in a motorsports setup,” said Adian. “[We would like] some specific regulations or monitoring by the authorities to look into how we can run.”
The group made it clear that it did not want any form of financial aid unless motorsports events were indeed not allowed to continue for the rest of the year. “If we cannot run this year, the riders won’t get their bonuses and the contractual staff won’t get paid because there won’t be any events.
national-level motorsports still need to be supported, said the group
“If we can’t complete our commitments to our sponsors, then we probably will need to talk to the government, perhaps the sports ministry, to see what kind of support we can get. Maybe a stimulus package that allows the industry to continue to operate, like tax incentives – I think that would help the industry. The people who work for it would benefit,” said Hogg.
Recent talks of a return of Formula 1 in Malaysia, or the addition of a second Malaysian round in MotoGP, shouldn’t detract from the importance of continued support for grassroots and national-level racing, the group stressed.
“While big events like Formula 1 and MotoGP are nice, if we don’t keep getting new blood into the sport, those big events will disappear as well, because there won’t be any demand for it,” said Axle Motorsport founder and former F1 racer Alex Yoong. “And the only way to get new blood into the sport are through events like MSF and Cub Prix.”