When I heard that Formula One racing was being held in Austin from Nov. 16-18, I initially didn’t think much of it. I compared it to NASCAR and scoffed; racing sports events- both the actual sport and the crowd they generally attract- just aren’t my thing. Little did I know, the FIA Formula One World Championship is a huge deal, and the fact that it was being held in Austin was a topic of business opportunity and excitement to some, inconvenience (due to increased traffic in a city that already has perpetual traffic) to others, and flat-out disapproval among many. The clash between exposing Austin to international prominence and the city’s consistent efforts to keep Austin “local” was brutally obvious- a case study of the benefits and disadvantages of globalization.
Formula One is a luxurious event, attended by wealthy people from around the globe. As the weekend approached, my roommate Juliette applied for and was offered a position translating Italian for Ferrari: she was paid $10 an hour, treated to expensive merchandise such as jackets and hats, and exposed to the FI atmosphere for free. When she came home to our apartment, she left a few dozen receipts on the counter: many were $100,000 USD and above. These were tabs for merchandise and drinks, and she commented that they were spent freely; in other words, she had 100-dollar bills and fancy credit cards casually being passed to her all weekend long. Additionally, stories were told among University of Texas students that travellers were dropping unbelievable amounts of money on extravagances such as helicopter rides for transportation and sightseeing around the city. I’m not telling all this because I’m envious or to criticize how the rich spend their money, but to recount the general mood among college students regarding the race.
Aside from the mood, it’s important to recognize the effects that the extra attention had on Austin.
The advantages were explicit and predicated. The task of preparing for the event and working the actual race provided short-term jobs for many. Additionally, increased revenue was expected and achieved for many restaurants, bars, liquor stores, and hotel and motels. However, according to the Austin-American Statesman, the total tally of returns from the F1 race may take several months and the help of a variety of bookkeepers, accountants and economists to calculate and verify. A less tangible benefit would be the international attention spotlighted on Austin, as people from all 50 states and 50 countries essentially vacationed in the city.
The disadvantages were less obvious, and that’s unfortunate because it means they are often ignored or understated. Ray Reece, a longtime Austin resident, book editor and activist, argues that the 1,000 acres of Southeast Travis County land used to build the track for the race was a foregone opportunity to promote local farming in an attempt to combat climate change and rising oil prices, an extremely existent but long-term issue that isn’t of pressing priority to companies and businesses.
A disturbing effect that no one considers is the increase in human trafficking that accompanies major sporting events. Everything’s bigger in Texas, but the fact that the Superbowl in Dallas in 2011 was the “single largest human trafficking event in the United States” is not a label to be proud of. In preparation for the event, Restore a Voice, a group dedicated to battling the issue of human trafficking, and Austin Police Department (APD), collaborated their expertise to protect as many victims as possible: APD actively sought out and rescued trafficked victims that were then provided with shelter and counseling through Restore a Voice. Restore a Voice founder Larry Megason describes a dark and sad reality: “There will be a lot of partying going on, but they want more than that. There are many people who come for the seedy side of the sporting event,” according to KVUE.
When comparing these advantages and disadvantages of the F1 race, it appears as if supporters of the race are most interested in immediate economic profit while disregarding the detrimental environmental and human impact. The city of Austin also hosts two other major events that attract outsiders: Austin City Limits (ACL) and South by Southwest (SXSW). However, these events have exclusively been Austin traditions and are not near as massive as the F1 race turned out to be. Additionally, the unique flashiness and excessive big spending that characterized the F1 race weekend is different from the more humble music festival focus of ACL and SXSW.
I can understand the attraction (as an Austin resident) of being a part of the US Grand Prix. Out of all US cities, ours was chosen! Nevertheless, I did not attend the race due to the hefty ticket prices and personal disinterest. However, even if I had the cash and enthusiasm, I would reconsider my support of the race after hearing the increasing critical discussion about the disadvantages of the race as the weekend neared.