Time for a sing-song

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower 


The other day there was the Fete de la Musique in France. This is a vast musical festival which, for the midsummer weekend, takes over the country. Everywhere you go there is music. The biggest concert this year was held in the Champ de Mars under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. This was to coincide with the turning on of 20,000 lights on the tower, which will twinkle on the hour every evening for the next 10 years. If you have never seen the Eiffel Tower sparkling you should stop off some time in Paris because it is a most impressive sight. And very romantic if you happen to be there with a loved one.

It started back in 2000 for the Millennium and it was magic (and was probably responsible for a rise in the birth rate in 2001) but then it was turned off because the lights had not been built to last. A small army of tower climbers was sent up the tower to retrieve them all.

"We had no idea it would work so well," says Luc Echavidre, the man who is in charge of the tower. "The mayor of Paris realized that the twinkling lights were so beautiful and so much appreciated, that they should be made permanent. It's marvelous. It has to continue."

And so a large sum of public money was set aside and the small army of tower climbers was sent back into action with a more robust set of lights, which will last for 10 years. It was announced that the lights would be turned on again during the Fete de Musique, live on national TV in fact. And so we went down there to watch the lights come on and found that there were 400,000 people there to join us. We sat down on the grass and listened to the concert, which was a curious affair with artists coming on, doing one number and then disappearing off into the night. There were the usual diet of French singers who have failed to make an impact on the international scene but among them were Eros Ramazzotti, Simply Red and Robbie Williams. Inevitably it was Williams who got the people going, singing a song originally recorded by an Austrian band called Opus, known as "Life is Life". You may not know the name but you'd know it if you heard it. And it did the job. If you cannot get a crowd going with "Life is Life" you might as well give up and become an undertaker.

And for good measure Williams kept the English-speaking members of the audience amused by departing with the words "Great Ass!" as he swept past the comely wench who was presenting the whole show.

And so off we went home, Na-na-ing and singing: "Life is Life" and other snatches of the words that we could remember. It is one of those songs that sticks with you and I find myself still humming it three days later. I was intrigued as to the provenance of this song and so at a spare moment I went onto the Internet and had a dig around and read the words. And here they are: "When you all give the power. We all give the best. Every minute of an hour. Don't think about the rest. And you all get the power. You all get the best" and so on and so forth. Good old fashioned Austrian logic about how working together produces better results and how if we all sing the same song we will stand up and dance.

Homespun Austrian logic has long had a place in Formula 1 thanks to Niki Lauda, Gerhard Berger and a mad man called Karl-Heinz Zimmermann, who does the hospitality these days for Bernie Ecclestone. Karl-Heinz is most famous for his cannon, which he used to fire after every Rothmans Williams Renault victory. His brother was a famous downhill ski racer and while Karl-Heinz is not quite that mad, he is nonetheless wonderfully eccentric as some Austrians tend to be.

But when I stopped to think about if I found myself be taken back to Montreal where I felt "Life is Life" might have been a useful anthem for the team bosses when they got all hot and bothered in the FIA Press Conference before the race. I had a good laugh at the idea of Ron Dennis dancing with Paul Stoddart but I was struck by what an absurd scene we had witnessed in Montreal. A bunch of millionaires getting upset at one another and these, I reminded myself, were the "shareholders" in the Formula 1 business.

Why is it so hard for the F1 team bosses to understand and accept that their real enemies are not Paul Stoddart, German bankers or men in FIA blazers but actually other sporting organizations such as the National Football League, the ATP Tour, NASCAR and the PGA Tour? Why can they not see that the sport must be united now and not at some airy-fairy point in the future?

After discussions with some of my colleagues in America, I studied the system that now exists in Major League Baseball after that sport found itself in a similar crisis because of the dominant position of the top teams. The New York Yankees was so dominant that it had a payroll of $130m while the smaller teams were struggling to get by with players costing only $25m. In the end a revenue sharing deal was hammered out under which teams pay 20% of their revenues from local receipts into a common fund. Three-quarters of this money is then shared equally between the 30 teams and the remaining 25% is shared between the teams with the lowest revenues with the poorest getting the most money from the fund. Last year (because of the economic climate) only 15 teams were profitable. The Yankees made a profit of $40.9m and had to pay out $26.5m of that. A small efficient team like the Milwaukee Brewers ended up with the biggest profit but received only $1.7m from the fund while the Montreal Expos, one of the least successful teams, received $28.5m to keep the team afloat. It is not perfect because teams are not currently required to reinvest the money from the fund (which they soon will be) but it does mean that everyone is able to survive.

This is the kind of scheme that Formula 1 should now be discussing. That would be a grown-up solution.

All together now... When we all feel the power. We all give the best...

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