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Hyderabad: From IT to sports

V Krishnaswamy | September 13, 2003

Hyderabad, that's the new destination for Indian sport.

After years of romancing with hi-tech and the computer world -- remember this was the city and state Bill Gates expressed interest in -- Andhra Pradesh's dynamic chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu feels it is time to embrace sport.

And over the last couple of years he has gone about it very methodically.

The tech-savvy CM has in the recent past taken to sport rather seriously. No, he is not playing it as yet -- but he recognises its potential to change the economic scenario.

He began with encouraging his state's star sportspersons like badminton star Pulella Gopichand and chess prodigies Pendyala Harikrishna and Koneru Humpy.

He then added major sporting events to his state's portfolio. The National Games were conducted on a grand scale and next on the agenda are the Afro-Asian games.

So enthusiastic is the Indian Olympic Association that its president Suresh Kalmadi, once so keen on having the Games in New Delhi (remember the renovation of various stadia, which was long before the Commonwealth Games bid came into the picture), later decided to go with Naidu.

Naidu naturally looks at this as a great opportunity to attract attention to his state and with the elections coming up, this can only enhance his image among voters.

Recently, he expressed a desire for a world-class golf course in Andhra Pradesh. This, he feels, could attract foreign visitors just the way, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore have done in recent years.

Playing in India would be much cheaper than in these countries and golf tourism is indeed a growing industry in Asia.

His state government has invited bids to lay a world-class course and last heard, many world famous designers have expressed an interest and more on the subject will be heard in coming months.

The latest is the expression of interest in having a Formula 1 racing track and of course a Formula 1 race itself.

A delegation from Andhra Pradesh, which includes Naidu, is to visit Monza, Italy where the next F-1 race is scheduled this weekend.

The first round of talks and discussion through correspondence has already taken place and this time around more details are to be discussed between the delegation (read Naidu) and the F-1 chief Bernie Ecclestone.

Ecclestone himself has been keen on staging more races outside Europe. The latest calendar for 2004 reveals new venues in Bahrain and China and India in the near future, maybe around 2006 or 2007, which would mean a whole new audience.

Naidu and his advisors, who are all aware of the usefulness of lobbying, have roped in Indian Formula Three racing hero Narain Karthikeyan, whose opinion that India needs a world class racing track will count more.

Karthikeyan will join the delegation in Monza for the meeting with Ecclestone.

Besides finding out all that is needed for a F-1 race, Naidu also hopes to convince Ecclestone to visit Hyderabad during the Afro-Asian Games in end-October, study the region and judge its suitability for a F-1 track.

As for Karthikeyan, he knows that this could be a key step in achieving his dream of driving in F-1, for a local star would make the race even more attractive.

Remember, when Kuala Lumpur became one of the venues, Petronas and many other Malaysian companies ensured Alex Yoong got a spot on the coveted circuit.

That despite many in the sport knowing that there were other drivers more talented than Yoong.

This week F-1 announced its latest calendar for 2004 and it showed that after much debate and relaxation of its tobacco clampdown, Belgium's Spa course is back on the circuit on August 29.

The Middle East will host its first Grand Prix in Bahrain on April 4, subject to circuit approval and China joins the fold, and will stage its inaugural GP in Shanghai on September 26. Austria and Canada, as expected, have been dropped from the fixtures.

Motor sports, which have shown a huge surge in popularity in the last couple of years, have quite a few talented names, who could be a force to reckon with.

Apart from Karthikeyan, there is Karun Chandhok, who has been performing extremely well in Britain on the F-3 circuit. If Naidu's plans work out, it will only help increase interest levels in the sport.

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