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A THORNY ISSUE: A small matter

Andi Thornhill

A THORNY ISSUE: A small matter

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The upgrade of Bushy Park has begun to pay dividends as seen by the successful hosting of Top Gear in May and there’s the forthcoming Racing Of Champions event in December.

It bodes well for the sport, sports tourism and Barbados most of all as we can be assured of greater international exposure.

Subsequently, we will be well placed to lure more visitors to the island.

Just because it is now considered a world-class facility, Bushy Park can be used to bid to host international events so the upgrade is a major plus.

It is nothing more than what local motorsport deserves because it has proven to be the biggest spectator sport here. Single events at the old Bushy Park Circuit used to attract in the region of 10 000, a much greater number than King Cricket or even Prince Football, which has the largest number of those participating in a single discipline.

Numbers, though, as they say, is power and I am sure the throngs who follow local motorsport would have been a major influence in the decision taken to redevelop the St Philip property.

If only a handful of people were watching the sport, I don’t think there would have been any consideration to upgrade.

The interest factor was largely responsible in fashioning the vision of those who dared to dream of getting Bushy Park to its current state.

I totally support the expansion, particularly if it is going to help benefit my beloved country in any way, however small, however big.

However, I hope now that there are possibilities to showcase the venue to the world that the management would not implement any measures that would disadvantage the regular flock who have supported motor sport through the years.

Mind you, this support is not only limited to circuit racing but also rallies, which have an international flavour that helps to create a buzz throughout the country.

These are people who make weekend plans to follow the activities as though it was an appointment with the doctor.

And we can’t forget the many ordinary men who invest thousands of dollars to improve their vehicles to compete at local and regional meets.

Then there are the mechanics, the auto spares providers, vendors and others who can make a dollar when various meets are held.

In other words, this class of people are like the nuts and bolts and screws of the sport. Their presence is what makes motorsport what it is and has the potential to become because it still has to be seen as a work in progress.

Who knows, at some point, knowing the Barbadian mentality for industry and growth, we might one day be hosting a formula one event once we have that facility in place.

Former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Anan, once described us as a country punching above its weight.

I place the new thrust in motorsport in that category.

Mention Barbados to any foreigner in sporting terms and I am certain that cricket is the first and perhaps only discipline they attach any merit or value to. If we can reverse that thinking in other tangible ways, it puts us in good stead to develop the skills of our people and for stakeholders to capitalise.

We also accept that change is constant and with it, there is a price to be paid for progress.This was pointed out by Bushy Park’s new management and  that it can’t be business as usual mainly because of the costs associated with its maintainance.

I agree to the extent that it won’t impact drastically on the norms patrons had accepted as a way of life at the old venue.

The only way I can accept a ban on coolers is if there are now considered to be security risks.What is allowed to go in them should be discretionary and compliance should be respected on both sides.

For instance, if there’s a particular beverage brand sponsoring an event and exclusivity is mandated in this area, I believe those rights should be respected but other brands that are not competing should be allowed in.

Food is an entirely different case because people must retain the right to choose the type they want to consume, how it should be prepared and preference on who they buy it from should that need arise.

Not only that, in hard economic times the average person is more prudent with their spending habits so some of them would want to prepare their own meals as a cost-cutting measure. Even so, I think the majority of spectators attending sports usually patronize the food stalls and bars.

We also know that the cost of staging local meets at the new facility is very restrictive and while there’s been a promise to review the current asking rate, I don’t know that a figure has been reached yet that would allow such ventures to continue regularly.

This must be handled with due diligence because these meets create the atmosphere and the hype for the bigger ones.

It would be a big mistake to discourage them because of excessive charges clearly not within the financial reach of an organisation like the Barbados Auto Racing League, which is a main artery in the body of the sport.

It would be a shame if by reaching for the stars we ever forget that everything started at ground level.

• Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist.