Politics And Corruption: Why There Isn't A Race In Indonesia. Yet.

If anyone needed any further proof that Indonesia is important to the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, the fact the Repsol Honda team chose Bali as the location to launch their 2015 MotoGP project should remove any doubt. In front of a crowd consisting of Indonesian media, regional sales teams,Honda dealers, and just a single journalist from the European media (and a very smart one at that), Repsol Honda unveiled their 2015 livery, and Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa met fans and engaged in a couple of photo ops.

A few days later, in Malaysia, Yamaha presented their 2015 racing program in front of a mass meeting of their Southeast Asian network, dealers and business partners flown in from Indonesia and neighboring countries. The Movistar Yamaha team had already been launched in Madrid – the Movistar TV millions ensured the location of that launch – but Yamaha took the time to introduce the three teams racing Yamahas in MotoGP, as well as present their activities in Asia. Frankly, the presence of the Movistar Yamaha, Tech 3 and Forward Yamaha teams were more of a crowd pleaser than actually imparting any new information.

But if Indonesia is so important to the manufacturers, and to MotoGP, why is there not a race there? Over the course of the MotoGP test at Sepang, I had a few conversations with people on the subject. On the record, the story was always the same: we need a suitable track, and as soon as one exists we will be happy to go there. Off the record, however, they were much less optimistic. Yes, a track was the most immediate obstacle to staging a race there, but it wasn't the biggest problem. One person – nobody wanted to be publicly quoted on this subject – summed up the general feeling. "Corruption. It's too expensive, and too difficult."

Corruption is not unique to Indonesia. Indeed, it is endemic in several of the countries MotoGP visits. Argentina, ostensibly a democracy, is rife with corruption, and with politicians selling influence. Malaysia has major problems with corruption, as every taxi driver who has ever driven me anywhere in the country has been at pains to tell me. Public corruption in Spain and Italy is widespread: in Spain, the ruling Partido Popular is embroiled in a particularly ugly scandal involving off-the-books payments to party members. Indeed, some of the anger in Spain at Marc Márquez' decision to move to Andorra was related to a scandal involving former Catalan leader Jordi Pujol and charges of tax evasion.

The difference between Indonesia and, say, Argentina, is not great in terms of corruption. Both countries rank an equal 107th in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. The problem is one of how corruption affects political power, and the ability to get things done. There is a race in Argentina because a powerful governor of a regional province decided they wanted to stage a race, to help promote tourism to the rather remote Santiago del Estero province. Those in power are able to get things done, to have obstacles removed and achieve their goals. Argentina has already felt the benefits of motorsports, the Dakar Rally providing both popular entertainment and bringing much needed economic activity to some of the country's more remote regions.

The problem for Indonesia is that they do not have a powerful political figure with an interest in staging a race. The impression I get from speaking to Indonesians is that MotoGP is very much a young person's sport. There are literally millions of MotoGP fans all throughout Indonesia, from all islands, and of all of its many faiths. But they are overwhelmingly young, and like the young throughout the world, bereft of much political influence. They may be desperate for a race, but they lack both the political and financial clout to make it happen.

That lack of clout expresses itself in the state of Indonesian race circuits. In its current state, Sentul is in no shape to stage an international motorcycle race, and would require major upgrades. Those upgrades would be expensive, and without either a major private investor or an enthusiastic local authority, the funds needed for such upgrades will not be forthcoming.

But it's not just money. In the case of Indonesia – and the same holds true for Brazil – it is about the influence to make something happen. In countries where corruption is common, everyone needs paying off, from the customs officials to the local police to local government. Paying such people off either requires a lot of money, or a local figure powerful enough that they already own the local police, customs and authorities, so they don't need to spend the extra money. Such a figure with an interest in MotoGP has yet to arise in Indonesia, leaving only the route of paying everyone off. That is beyond the means of MotoGP, however: Indonesian police are notoriously corrupt, so much so that members of the KPK, the anti-corruption agency set up to combat the corruption of the police, constantly find themselves being arrested on a range of trumped up charges.

Even having a powerful figure behind you is no guarantee of a long-term future in a country. The cancellation of the Moscow round of World Superbikes is a case in point. The race was organized and promoted by Alexander Yakhnich, a prominent and successful Russian businessman with strong connections to the Kremlin. So enamored of the sport was Yakhnich that he set up his own World Supersport team, then landed a ten-year contract with Infront Motor Sports to organize a WSBK round in Russia. In the past year or so, since the situation in the Ukraine caused tension between Russia and the West, business has become a lot more difficult for Yakhnich, and he has been forced both to pull out of World Supersport, and drop the Moscow WSBK race. "Without the support of the government, nothing gets done in Russia," Yakhnich team manager Nataliya Lyubimova told the German website Speedweek. Racing goes from being welcome to being impossible, almost in the blink of an eye.

This is a pattern which faces MotoGP and World Superbikes throughout all of Asia and South America. It is hard to express just how keen Dorna are to stage races in India, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile. Yet all through the region, they face similar problems. In India, customs regulations make it financially impossible to import equipment into the country, then get it back out again in the time between two races and at reasonable cost. Indian governments have not regarded motorsports as important enough to grant customs exceptions, leaving even the formidable Bernie Ecclestone incapable of staging an F1 race. In Indonesia, corruption makes doing business almost impossible: Dorna was close to signing an agreement with a new circuit to be built in the country, but in the four years since I first heard of that, there has been no progress on the track actually getting built. In Brazil, the aftermath of the FIFA soccer world cup and the preparations for the 2016 Olympics have raised popular unrest at large sums of money being spent for sport, rather than helping an impoverished urban population. If Brazilians are complaining about the cost of staging a soccer tournament, then funding the upgrades to a motorcycle racing circuit becomes a political impossibility.

And so we are stuck with four races in Spain, two in Italy, and none in Brazil, India, Indonesia. For both the factories and Dorna, the potential gains to staging races in these countries are huge. Sales of motorcycles in Indonesia are over 8 million units a year, in India, sales are around 10 million units a year, in Brazil, just under 2 million. For Dorna, too, the potential in terms of TV rights and merchandising sales is vast. But as big as the potential is, neither Dorna nor the manufacturers can afford to navigate the sea of corruption which engulfs those territories. Until there are major political changes in those countries, they will remain as the sirens of Greek mythology: ever alluring, but posing a mortal danger to those who answer the call.

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And of course, in the context of world affairs, don't be caught paying bribes or inducements that may be viewed by some jurisdictions as illegal as then you are likely to face jail time.

Sing penting mangan ora mangan iso kumpul lek. Ora urus karo motojipi neng Indonesia. Esih penak nonton gratis neng TRAN7 toh. Gitu aja refot.

You say that Dorna would love to stage a race, yet any time they do in this part of the World they then cripple it locally with ridiculous starting times, even in the tropics in Malaysia when it is more likely to rain in the afternoon, PI when a late afternoon race is more likely to be cold, Japan when it is held later etc...All to appease a European audience who can sleep in for an extra hour or two in the morning (neglecting to remember that the region they say they want to appeal to always has to stay up late to watch Euro rounds).

Dorna would love to go to Indonesia, India, and the rest of Asia, but for the moment, the sport relies heavily on income from the sale of TV rights in Europe, especially Spain and Italy. Having a race in, say, Malaysia and scheduling it an hour or two later to suit European TV is the best compromise they can come up with. Once Dorna are making more money from the sale of TV rights in Indonesia and Thailand than in Spain, then scheduling will change. It might even change the timing of European rounds. But that day is still some time off yet.

Sentul Circuit is One Of world's Private Automotive Circuit that build Not By Government ( Indonesian Governments ), as long as we know most of great Circuit like sepang involve government's hand ( malaysian kingdom) to built and run
You know . . . its a private circuit, we just talk about who will get advantage if government give the money to the circuits owner . . . just pray to our new President, he told and promise us and the media that Indonesia will get another new Circuit . . hopefully it run under Government hands . . . i mean Indonesian minister of sport.
we just talk about huge lands that already set up for circuit at Northern Jakarta , bali, Or Lombol Island . . . I hope this is not just another flying promises . . . the begining of Good Government's Political will on Motorsport . . . fingers crossed

There are things which are more important than money, and not supporting
repressive political regimes is one of those things.

If all the Japanese manufacturers stood together, then they could all
turn their backs on this market, which frankly would be the morally correct

One main point of David's article is that it is the younger generation that is hankering for motorsports; definitely not the regime.By supporting a MGP race in Indo you are supporting the masses and not supporting the regime.. that is the "moral correctness" you are referring to, no?

Also, the Japanese manufacturers, Honda and Yamaha, are already neck deep in a very profitable market. If you think they will support any mandate to "turn their backs" on the Indo market you are deluded.

Hi David

I think the Indian market may be a bit more than 2.5 million units a year. Last I checked, the Indian manufacturers combined output was around 15 million units a year, and I doubt they are exporting 13.5 million units a year. Domestic consumption more than likely would account for at least 50 per cent, more like 65 to 70 per cent. So that would be at least 7.5 million domestic sales a year. I know Royal Enfield is now making more than 200,000 units a year, of which less than 10% are exported.

Thanks for a great article though.

If I have read you correctly, you seem to be saying that annual two wheeler sales in India is 2.5 million units. That figure is very low considering the fact that Hero MotoCorp (49% owner of EBR) sells well over half a million units per month. That means that Hero alone sells in the region of 6 million units per annum. Honda is the next biggest and sells over 380,000 units every month. That again would mean more than 3.5 million units per annum. Local players such as TVS and Bajaj account for an average of 200,000 units each per month which means that they get to sell about 2.4 million units every year. Out of this Bajaj is the only company that gives the combined sales figures of exports and domestic sales. Yamaha and Suzuki are real fringe players with their sales figures averaging around 40 to 50 thousand units per month (for each). Then there are Royal Enfield, Mahindra, Hyosung, Benelli and Kawasaki who are selling even smaller numbers. So the figures given by The Baron of 15 million units production is reasonably accurate. But domestic consumption is in excess of 75%, nearly 80% so that would definitely be over 10 million in the domestic market.

Unlike Indonesia, India has a world class circuit called the Buddh International Circuit which hosted 3 F1 races before being shunted out of the calender. I read somewhere that the archaic law of paying import tax for the equipment bought has been amended to no need for tax if the inventory is out of the country in fourteen days. But still there are no races, not even WSBK. WSBK at least should have prompted Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Ducati, Aprilia, EBR to lobby with the government for races since all the manufacturers I have named above have a presence albeit small in India. God really knows what form of corruption is interfering in hosting races of both WSBK and MotoGP in India. Apart from BIC, there is yet another racing track in Chennai which is now upgraded to hold at least WSBK races and probably MotoGP ones as well with further upgradation. There is a huge audience for motorcycle racing of all kinds. MotoX, SuperX etc all organised at local levels draw pretty big crowds. When Chris Pfeiffer came to India, he performed his stunts in many places almost all of which had sold out audiences. Pity, the demand and necessity are both there but corruption seems to stop the racing in India from happening.

Yes, sorry, I got my numbers wrong. It is indeed closer to 10 million. When I was doing research, I stumbled across a bunch of numbers which I misinterpreted. Fixed the article now.

The Chennai track is not suited in its current layout for international events. I've ridden there a couple of times and I can guarantee you there is no way that some sections (like the bridge section) will pass FIA/FIM inspection. BIC remains India's best bet for organizing a premier motorsport event.

thanks for writing this great article David, as an Indonesia i think this is some "punch in the face" that we need.

there is huge question mark in all of indonesian people, why can't we bring a grand prix back to our homeland,and you got i right, the corruption and political issues that makes it looks imposible to bring a grand prix back.

we used to have a MotoGP back in the late 1990's and Some A1 GP in early 2000's so why can't we do it again ?? is the goverment concern about this ?? well honestly they are, they planed to built an international circuit somewhere in Northern Jakarta, but honestly i doubt that, with this kind of political condition and some corruption issues lately it would be amazing to see the circuit will be built, or even finished.

so what about sentul ? as one of the biggest circuit in indonesia which is own by private sector, i can say it nearly imposible to held a GP there, i've been there couple of times (both Karting Circuit and Main Circuit), the condition is not as good as it used to, we do spend a lot of money to rent or even practice there, but where the money go ? is they really care about the circuit condition ? did they do the maintenance ? did they try to get some sponsorship to at least make them able to maintenance the circuit ? we don't know. far as i know is we do have a lot of businessmen that able to do those things.

we do have a lot of talented young rider here, not just Ali adrian, Doni Tata, Rafid Topan, and Taufik Hidayat (who recently join EJC). and we sure have a lot of very great mechanic that can make some bikes run more than just fast.

it takes a lot of effort to bring a grand prix back to my beloved country, and no one seems to take it seriously back here. quite sad actually

Indonesia deserves a race.
Malaysia have already staked their claim.

I've been to that part of the world as a long-nose and any wearing of a 46 logo in even the remotest locations results in a conversation about bike racing.

Instead we get another 4 years of Aragon.

Makes perfect sense.

Given that racing tends to be something of a promotional boon to the manufacturers - has anyone given any thought to the idea of masses of R1s, ZX-10Rs, Fireblades and GSX-Rs being let loose in India and Indonesia? :)

I don't know about you guys, but if you've ever experienced traffic in these wonderful countries, you might be excused for thinking that perhaps scooters are enough...

But to be (somewhat) more serious... yes, it sucks that such keen moto markets don't get a GP or a WSB round.

A great article David... yet surprising you still remember my country :) I am indonesian and totally agree on those thing about intricate political situation and corruption as a major obstacle.. though myself are autosport enthusiasth but seriously I think the country still has many more pressing issue than staging an international grandprix that more likely cost too much than its benefit..hell, motorbike sales is a guarantee spiking every year even without any motorsport event.. as for tourism industry yes it will benefit but I don't think its worth at cost of building new circuit, at times when many people still craving for basic infrastructure like electrical,roads,industry,etc. Yes, indonesia situation now is much different compare to year 1997 when staging motogp and WSBK, which only possible because of ex president son-tommy soeharto. Realisticly speaking international circuit & GP's are simply not possible at the moment..its pain but true.
There are many other Asian region more capable and having appropriate tracks for the show, where is China motoGP? china shoud held at least 2 GP per year, same as Japan.. Turkey? Hongkong, Singapore -please bring more evening GP like Qatar..:)

As if a government or a countrys industrialist want to prove to the rest of the world that they are a modern high tech country, one way to showcase thier abilities is to build a modern circuit and host F1, moto gp and WSBK races. I thought this was why Malaysia, China, Humgry and Russia built mew tracks.
Perhaps the Indonesian government just dont feel the need to project this image

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Now back to the topic at hand. IMHO economy and security are two other factors that prevented MotoGP racing here. Not many people have means to afford paying to watch races, and those who do mostly would rather see F1 instead. Those who don't may sometimes try forcefully to enter the event without paying and cause security breaches. In a large area such as a circuit, it will be difficult to handle those kinds of people. Add the low number of people who would subscribe for pay TVs (much less so for pay-per-view), then the frickin' rampant corruption, and it becomes financially unfeasible to hold such a big event. Just my two cents here; overall an excellent article. Thank you for raising the topic, David.

David said, "There are literally millions of MotoGP fans all throughout Indonesia, from all islands, and of all of its many faiths. But they are overwhelmingly young, and like the young throughout the world, bereft of much political influence. They may be desperate for a race, but they lack both the political and financial clout to make it happen."

The political, financial and influence-peddling clout to make a MGP event happen in Indo is already there. It rests with the owners of the Honda and Yamaha import/manufacture/distribution/sales networks. These are rich and powerful enough people/entities to overcome the institutional corruption - IF THEY SO DESIRE.