Moscow - why would Formula 1 bother?

THE recent months have seen a stream of stories suggesting that Formula 1 will go to Moscow in 2003. Bernie Ecclestone is saying it will happen but no-one has yet asked the question why such a race makes sense. Once upon a time Moscow was the center of the Communist world but the collapse of the Soviet system led to the breaking up of the old USSR and the establishment of 15 independent republics. Since then Russia has struggled to establish democracy in the face of organized crime and other financial problems. In its favor it is the largest country in the world in terms of area but has only 146m people, which is tiny in comparison to China or India - other countries which are bidding for F1 races.

The country's economy has contracted by 45% since 1991, despite its wealth of natural resources, a well-educated population and a strong, but now fading, industrial base. Some progress has been made improving the economy since the collapse of the ruble in 1999 but foreign investment has been scared away by what the Central Intelligence Agency refers to as "reliance on barter transactions, widespread corruption among officials, and endemic organized crime".

Russia can afford to pay for Formula 1 and it would probably help to improve the country's image but there is no doubt that an association with Russia will reflect badly on the sport - unless there are major changes in the way Russia works in the short term.

There are other countries which are just as willing to pay for F1 races and there are much more convincing reasons as to why F1 should visit them.

Russia may be a land of opportunity in the longer term but F1 would be wise to think very carefully before committing itself to such a dangerous association in the short term.

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