Just a stone’s throw away from where the Formula 1 circus will roll into town, thousands of people will be dwelling in abject poverty.
Baku is renowned for its atrocious human rights record, but that isn’t all the capital of Azerbaijan is dealing with. A significant number of people living in the capital city are surviving on less than one dollar a day. All while motorsports’ richest sector showcases its opulence. Hardly fair.
In 2015, a $6.5 billion project was completed as Baku hosted the European Games. Since then, many have been questioning where all of the revenue from the games have gone, as well as who benefited from hosting.
The organisers of the games also paid for the travel and accommodation expenses of all 6,000 athletes that competed in the events, a move heavily condemned by humans rights groups. Azerbaijan is renowned for a poor human rights record and endemic corruption.
So why did Formula 1 even risk hosting an event there when the country is considered unethical? Some may suggest that it was merely another money-making move for Ecclestone and co, or did FOM see genuine possibilities to improve the prospects of the nation? The latter is considered unlikely, with the likes of Germany having been scrapped from the calendar previously. If there isn’t money to be made, F1 isn’t interested?
In 1995, 68.1% of the country was living below the absolute poverty line. Whilst the figure has decreased since, the problem is still rife with the rich getting richer and the poor struggling even more.
The minimum wage in Azerbaijan is just $105 USD, despite it being the country benefiting from its oil business. A lot of questions have been raised about where the money goes. A part of the answer can be seen when the elite are earning over one hundred times that of someone on minimum wage.
As a result, the living wage is far below the average wage and therefore not adequate for satisfying basic needs. To make matters worse, the cut off point to receive social aid is much less than the current minimum wage. Meaning, despite struggling to make ends meet, the government will not help those who are employed and earning.
In short, while many people could be lifted out of poverty, a considerable number of Azerbaijanis remain just below or above the poverty line. These people suffer from unemployment or underemployment and are particularly vulnerable to external influences, and these are vast in Azerbaijan.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Azerbaijan has one of the highest rates of displaced persons worldwide, equating to 6.5% of the total population. The main source of the displacement is Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which had made the wealth even more poorly distributed.
Unsurprisingly, the country has come under immense pressure from the likes of the UN to change. Unlike many impoverished countries – where foreign and media coverage can at least help alleviate difficulty – Azerbaijan is an unknown quantity. Freedom of the press simply doesn’t exist, a relic of the autocratic grip that embraced the country during the Soviet occupation. This has harvested a culture where the hereditary despotic regime of the Aliyev dynasty has been allowed to subsist, largely unchallenged.
However, this isn’t to say the Formula 1 isn’t bringing an economic advantage to the country, because it is. A PwC study estimated that F1 has meant an $277.3 million has been accumulated for the region. Sadly, the benefit of this is yet to be seen amongst the local people and Baku City have not confirmed where the money has been spent.
So, there you have it – a cursory Google scroll will unearth the severity of their human rights breaches, not to mention the extent of imprisoned journalists, dissidents and just about anyone with an opposing opinion.
The pinnacle of motorsport will get underway while thousands of people are left stranded. Within metres of the race. Without anything.