ELESA, ANDO PRIME - Once the undisputed favorite of velocity-blinkers, the breakneck sport of Podracing is facing dark times.
While Podracing's long-standing overlap with the legally ambiguous elements of society is well documented, a string of high-profile scandals have further eroded the sport's reputation among the general public.
The controversies began five years ago when the Ungasan Cross Country event was exposed as a front for a CSA official's illegal mining operation. Since then, racer Elan Mak's true identity as Fluggrian crime lord Kam Nale has been exposed, authorities raided the pit of Knire Dark seizing hundreds of kilograms of contraband, and alleged-assassin Aldar Beedo was apprehended by a bounty hunter in mid-race at the last Fire Mountain Rally.
With seven years since the last fatality-free professional race, the safety crusade led by activist (and former racer) Deland "Pabs" Tyerell is gaining momentum having successfully lobbied for course modifications on over 12 worlds and the complete banning of Podracing on Caprioril last month.
"Put a hovercam in front of any being, and they'll claim racer safety is important," said popular Podracing personality Tzidik Wrantojo, "but everyone knows that it's the danger, death and massive explosions that fill the seats. Safety doesn't sell. You don't see the babies from the Pouffra Circuit on the cover of Podracing Quarterly."
Behind closed doors, Podracing insiders allege that the accomplishments of the Ratts Tyerell Foundation is merely a convenient cover for an authoritarian crack-down from upper levels of the Republic government. This claim was recently flatly denied by the Supreme Chancellor's aide, Sate Pestage.
While unwilling to make direct implications, Podracing promoter Groff Zugga is outspoken about the motivation behind recent attacks. "There's nothing bad you can say about Podracing that isn't also true of swoop racing, and swoopers are deity in the HoloNews," he said in outrage. "Notice that half of the swoopers are human, and there's not a single human on the Podracing pro-circuit. Coincidence?"
Amid the controversy, sources warn that two of Podracing's highest profile events - the Boonta Eve Classic and the Ando Overland -- may face indefinite cancellation until the sponsoring Desilijic clan recovers from the financial devastation triggered by the conviction of Zorba the Hutt.
Ultimately, it may be the paying public who decide the sport's fate. Track attendance is down 23% from just a few years ago, and down 51% from its height a few decades ago. Meanwhile, other racing events like swoop and sling races have enjoyed surging ticket sales.
Betting transaction volume on professional and semi-professional Podracing remains at a 40-year high.