Growing complaints about the high cost of hosting the Australian F1 Grand Prix, which are, according to Australian newspaper reports, around A$34M ($44M) annually, have threatened the future of the race. F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, however, downplayed the uproar and said, “We hope we're going to be in Melbourne forever, although we do get a bit of criticism, and I don't know why. We're happy with Melbourne, and I'd be happy to sign a 50-year contract.” The Australian Grand Prix Corp., which organizes the Australian GP, rejected Ecclestone’s statement as nothing more but a “wonderful sentiment.” The 2012 annual report of the Australian Grand Prix Corp. revealed that last year’s race lost A$56.6M, as revenue of A$36.4M stood opposite expenditures of A$93M. The deficit had to be picked up by the Victorian state government. Annual reports also revealed that the Grand Prix’s losses have increased from A$34.6M in ’07 to last year’s A$56.6M. The race’s contract with Formula One Management is set to expire in ’15. Despite recently saying that he intended to come to Victoria to start negotiations for a contract extension, Ecclestone will snub the Melbourne race for a fifth straight year. The Australian Grand Prix Corp. did not respond to multiple interview requests. His decision to forgo a trip to Australia could hint at Ecclestone’s readiness to axe the Australian Grand Prix -- unless it becomes a night race. Ecclestone said the Australian GP is “probably the least viable of all the races we have" given the time difference to the European market, and with other venues waiting for their opportunity. He added, "We have a contract which we will respect, so up until 2015 we are in good shape. After then, we really don't know. If we were to have a divorce from our friends in Melbourne, we would probably be walking away from Australia. Because I can't see how Adelaide could make [a night race] happen, or anywhere else, if Melbourne can't.” Several drivers including Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said they back the idea to see Melbourne alternate normal daylight races with a floodlit race once every three years. The future of the Australian GP hangs in the balance, and while the idea of a night race could save its spot on the F1 calendar. Officials will be very reluctant to spend additional money for lighting as taxpayers are already complaining about the race’s high costs. Australia joined the F1 calendar in ’85 with a street course in Adelaide. The South Australian city hosted the country’s F1 race for 10 years, before it moved to its current location at Melbourne’s Albert Park in ’96.
WHAT ABOUT SOUTH AMERICA? The racing series’ lone South American race in Brazil could get some company in the near future. Recent media reports suggested that Argentina could make an F1 comeback and replace the struggling South Korean race. Argentine Minister of Tourism Enrique Meyer told Italian website Autosprint: “The National Government accepts the challenge of organizing the Grand Prix of Argentina to promote the image of our country around the world. In May, the three-year contract will be signed between all parties involved." Argentina last hosted an F1 Grand Prix in ’98. The Brazilian Grand Prix, which takes place at Interlagos circuit in Sao Paulo has a contract with F1 through ’14. However, Ecclestone revealed last year that if the track wants to retain its F1 race until at least ’20 then it has to undergo major improvements. Ecclestone said, “I have long believed in Brazil -- we've been there since 1972. The future of Formula One Brazil depends now on major improvements at Interlagos. These events (World Cup and Olympics) are a great opportunity to look at the circuit, as well.” The organizers of the Brazilian F1 race, GP Brasil, did not respond to multiple interview requests.
Scottish Football League CEO David Longmuir "admitted plans to reconstruct Scottish football in time for next season are in danger of falling apart," according to Keith Jackson of the Scotland DAILY RECORD. Longmuir was stung by criticism after asking clubs to back and 11th-hour rehash of a plan "to place Old Firm colt teams in the lower leagues." He wants the best young talents from Celtic and Rangers "to help attract bigger crowds to smaller grounds around the country, while developing their skills in a competitive environment." But it has been claimed that "the proposal is designed to ensure Rangers do not remain in the bottom league, despite running away with this season’s Third Division title." He refuted any suggestion that "he is acting in the interests of any one club." Longmuir said, "It’s my job to act in the best interests of 30 clubs -- not one -- and that’s why I go out and try to generate investment into this league." Longmuir then launched into a powerful defense of his decision to urge SFL clubs "to reconsider making room for Celtic and Rangers youth teams." He said, "I had the full support of my board and Celtic and Rangers to put this out to SFL clubs. The clubs in my league are wrestling with whether they want an 18-team bottom division or two leagues of 10. I was giving them another option to consider" (DAILY RECORD, 3/14).
RANGERS FANS THREATEN BOYCOTT: The SCOTSMAN reported Rangers supporters' chiefs "have threatened to boycott away fixtures next season" if the Ibrox outfit’s SFL counterparts vote for a new 12-12-18 set-up. The "sticking point for some of the nation’s smallest clubs is whether to proceed with an 18-team third division or persist with the current Second and Third Divisions comprising 10 teams each." Rangers Supporters Assembly President Andy Kerr claims that the Glasgow club's fanbase "will look to take revenge if the 18-team bottom tier is voted in." Kerr said: "I don’t believe our fans would stand for it, and nor should they. It’s been an adventure this year. But the thought of having to go through all that again, having won the league and not been promoted, would have a very negative affect among our supporters" (SCOTSMAN, 3/14).
The Asian Football Confederation's outgoing acting President Zhang Jilong "has urged AFC members to restore the 'health and glory' of the continental governing body grappling with match-fixing scandals and corruption charges," according to Sudipto Ganguly of REUTERS. The AFC, which has been without a permanent president since Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam was banned for life by FIFA for corruption and bribery, "will elect a new leader during its May 2 election." Zhang said in a statement: "AFC has really suffered in the recent past and it is our duty to restore it back to its health and glory. We are the guardians of Asian football and we should be seen as shining examples of honesty, integrity, and transparency." Zhang said that "he tried his best in his capacity as the caretaker administrator." Zhang said, "I am really honoured that I was entrusted with the caretaker job while the AFC was in its most difficult period. I am happy that I did my part to maintain the stability of AFC. I was able to lead successfully only because of your cooperation and support" (REUTERS, 3/14). XINHUA reported Zhang confirmed earlier this month that "he will not run for leadership election during the AFC Extraordinary Congress in May." He stressed that the decision was made "totally out of his own will and with careful thinking." He will stay on as senior VP of AFC (XINHUA, 3/13).
Super League rugby club Salford Reds Owner Marwan Koukash wants Super League clubs "to be given greater spending powers," according to Neil Barker of the MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS. Koukash is calling for a "substantial salary cap increase and disputes claims" such a move would lead to the instant demise of some of Super League’s smaller clubs. Koukash: “Rugby League is a great product but the sport is being hugely undersold and under marketed. An increase would raise the sport’s profile, it would attract more top players and as a result more money could be demanded for the sport’s TV rights. The smaller clubs clubs would then receive more money from this and therefore be in a stronger position because of it. Former Salford Coach Kevin Ashcroft claims Koukash himself "has already had a huge impact on Super League." Ashcroft said, “He has been a breath of fresh air and just what our game needed. This fellow is the real deal and he’s determined to succeed" (MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, 3/14).
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority is "expected to expand its investigation" into National Rugby League club Manly following revelations players were injected with calf blood -- and potentially other substances -- at the private homes of teammates, according to Brent Read of THE AUSTRALIAN. The home of former forward Josh Perry, now playing in England, was among the venues used by players for off-site injections of Actovegin, "the controversial but legal extract obtained from calf blood that enhances aerobic oxidation." It is not banned under the WADA code "unless it is infused intravenously." Manly CEO David Perry, who was not at the club at the time the alleged injections took place, has been "made aware of what occurred and it is understood he broached the subject during a phone hook-up with ASADA on Monday" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 3/15). In Sydney, James Hooper wrote the fact three players were getting injected off-site by a nurse at Perry's home "set off alarm bells." However, Manly Coach Geoff Toovey said, "From my recollection, the only thing that was injected here was Actovegin which was approved by all the bodies and ASADA" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3/15).
POSSIBLE EVIDENCE: In Sydney, Brad Walter wrote credit card receipts and recorded phone conversations "may be tabled as evidence" when NRL Cronulla Sharks players begin meeting ASADA investigators next week. Despite complaints from federal Sports Minister Kate Lundy that the Sharks had not made any of their players available to be interviewed, "ASADA and legal representatives for the players had agreed last week to a process and time frame for that to occur." Further talk between ASADA and the player representatives, "who Cronulla officials insist have been operating at arm's length from the club since their appointment, are set to continue next week" (SMH, 3/15).