antoinemeo_GPRD1

EWC & The Rise of South America

2 years ago

Words: Jonty Edmunds

Living in a country that’s a part of the downbeat Euro zone, it’s hard for us motorcycle folk to get a handle on the relevance of ‘emerging markets’. It’s even harder making the link between off-road motorbike sport and economies that are on the up-and-up. I guess, like most, I’m aware that places like Brazil have things pretty good at the moment, but so what?

As far as day-to-day life goes, not a lot is going to change for any of us. We’ll maybe eat a little more Brazilian chicken in our sandwiches, but as far as the bigger picture’s concerned, nothing’s really different for any of us. But when it comes to top-level racing, the economic success stories of many South American countries is starting to have a very noticeable and direct impact.

Governmental support, hand-outs if you like, are essential in the ongoing delivery of top-quality sporting events. The knock-on impact of a large motorsport competition has been proved to have lasting financial benefits for the host town/region/country. Again, something that’s hard to understand as, in parts of the UK, accessing such support is anything but easy.

Antoine Meo in the special test at the GP of Chile

The Dakar is the clearest example of what happens when two or three nations with growing economies and an interest in motorsport get together to support a major sporting spectacle. Sure, the Dakar left North Africa because of fears over competitor safety, but the willingness of countries such as Chile and Argentina to open their doors with a warm welcome, and probably throw a fair bit of cash in the direction of the organisers too, means the Dakar’s not likely to leave South America any time soon.

Back to enduro. State support for events within many European countries is dwindling. Fact. Spain and Portugal, who have always benefitted from some healthy ‘backing’, are, as a nation, enduring some pretty serious cut-backs right now. Morally, governments simply can’t continue to support events like they were in light of mass redundancies and increasing unemployment. Interestingly, to date only five European countries have registered an interest in organising a round of the 2013 EWC series.

In South America, things are different. With buoyant economies, money is flowing through nations like Chile and Brazil in ways we in Europe can only dream of. And with money to spend, money is being spent – promoting national tourism through sport.

F1 was the first major motorsport championship to buck the trend of continuously visiting traditional circuits and countries in favour of those where government money was being offered. Where F1 looks east to places like Indonesia, India, Malaysia, etc, it’s likely that South America will play an increasing role in off-road motorcycle championship.

Now that I’ve been to Chile for the opening round of the Enduro World Championship I’ve seen what a buoyant economy looks like – something we’ve not seen in the UK for a few years now. In motorcycling terms, it means plenty of riders and numerous teams willing to try their hand at EWC competition.

But money isn’t always the answer. Many will happily argue that it’s in Europe where the EWC series should remain – places where the tradition of enduro lives strong. But what was interesting about the Chilean GP was the fact that in many, many ways, it was better than a large number of European events.

It wasn’t perfect – problems with the enduro test saw many riders’ results suffer – but key issues could have and should have been pre-empted and resolved by the FIM before the start. In terms of promotion, the event was great. In terms of the facilities, the event was great. In terms of the understanding of what was needed, the event was great. More track staff wouldn’t have gone a miss, but it was the support the event received from the public that convinced me that Chile is more than worthy of a place on the EWC circuit.

Unlike the GP of Mexico a few years ago where only a small number of spectators turned out to watch, and unlike the EWC event in New York State where next to no-one attended, I’d say that a good 85-percent of the many thousands of spectators in Chile were into bikes. Those that turned out to watch the event were passionate and knowledgeable off-road bikers. And nearly all with money in their pockets.

So as far as I see it, from a manufacturer’s point of view at least, focusing a little more seriously on South America in the future absolutely makes sense.

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