Saturday, 29 December 2012

Do The Right Thing! (reprise)

ITEM: The Ben Barker saga took another twist shortly after I wrote last week's blog, when the BSPA Management Committee ruled that, given Barker's desire to leave Coventry for Birmingham, he was available for transfer by sale. Birmingham, as Barker's last club, have first option on the transfer, and if they decide not to take up that option, he'll be made available to other clubs.

And this is where it could get complicated. Coventry will name a price. Birmingham will decide whether they can match that price. If not - and Birmingham are the only club to declare an interest - then it will go to an arbitration panel, and a fee will be set that, presumably, Birmingham will be bound to pay. But what if another club decides they can match Coventry's valuation? Presumably then Birmingham are out of the picture, and Barker doesn't get what he wants.

However, the only club that could track Barker in their side, as it currently stands, is Belle Vue, who are not exactly reported to be swimming in riches. Perhaps another club could buy Barker and make him available for loan, which Birmingham could then take advantage of, but it's hard to imagine who might see him as an investment for the future in such a manner.

No, it seems that Birmingham, if they are still keen on Barker, will have to pay what the arbitration panel decides he is worth, Barker will get to ride for the club he likes, and Coventry will get some recompense for their asset. What a shame this all couldn't have been avoided.

ITEM: The Barker decision would also seem to affect the other ongoing transfer disputes, all involving Peterborough, who are fast becoming the Elite League's Least Wanted, an awkward carbuncle on an already ugly hide. Peterborough have denied 2013 team places to Niels-Kristian Iversen. Hans Andersen, Troy Batchelor, and Kenneth Bjerre under the auspices of keeping their options open.

It's an open secret that Peterborough want to use Bjerre as their number one for next season, but they are wary of how well he will recover from his broken leg. At least this is the story they are peddling to the public - you'll forgive me if I don't accept it as the gospel truth. Iversen wants to ride for King's Lynn, who have built their side around him as number one, and Andersen and Batchelor seem keen to return to Swindon, where they won the league last season. The Panthers have put the blockers on the moves, yet the riders claim they have had no contact from their parent club, and would appreciate knowing, one way or another, which way their destiny lies. Even Bjerre seems to be in the dark, the most innocent victim of this gamesmanship.

Iversen, like Barker, has spent the past two years on loan at another club - the same club who want to use him for a third season. If Barker can be considered to have asked for a transfer - which triggered the MC decision - Iversen's declaration that he will ride only for the Stars should also be taken as a transfer request, and the process outlined above initiated.

The cases of Andersen and Batchelor are not so straightforward, with them having ridden for the Panthers in 2011, before spending 2012 on loan at Swindon. Batchelor has been quite vocal about his feelings - predominantly negative - for the Panthers, whilst Andersen, ever the politician, is keeping his options open. Swindon, for their part, seem to have built their side with both men in it, and see the Panthers' gambit as nothing more than a silly game.

If the BSPA want to protect the asset system they have to take action. At present, too few clubs hold too many aces, and the smaller clubs are at their mercy. As long as these smaller clubs acquiesce, everything is fine. But, as we've seen, they're starting to get uppity, and demand things they don't have, or the bigger clubs are holding them to ransom. This cannot allowed to continue. A redistribution of riders' registrations is not only desirable, it's essential if these issues aren't going to destroy what value clubs currently place on their assets. Moving on Iversen, Andersen, and Batchelor - as well as Barker - would be a good start.

* Of the Top 20 riders on the BSPA's list, SIX are owned by Peterborough. The rest of the list is as follows: Poole 5, Wolves 3, Coventry 2, and Swindon, King's Lynn, Birmingham and Eastbourne have 1 each. Belle Vue's highest asset is #22, Charlie Gjedde, while Lakeside's Adam Shields is only #31 on the list.

ITEM: The UEM - the European Motorcycle Union (soon to re-branded FIM-Europe) - are, to use a football analogy, speedway's UEFA to the FIM's FIFA. Primarily tasked with running European competitions in the various disciplines, their track sport arm has organised a European Speedway Championship since 1978, and a junior equivalent since 1998. Whilst obviously not at the level of FIM competition, the championships attract a good quality field, and past winners of the senior title include Tommy Knudsen, Krzystzof Kasprzak, and Matej Zagar. 

British speedway riders have rarely troubled the trophy makers, although Marvyn Cox and gary Havelock both won the title in the 1980s, and the ACU/SCB have lately turned away from UEM competitions, to the point where - in 2013 - there will be no British representation at all. This is both understandable, with the cost of competing across Europe prohibitive to all but our top riders who already find their schedules jam-packed, and puzzling, because at the slightly lower level of competition British riders may make the impact they seem unable to make on the Grand Prix series.

Our lack of serious participation in UEM competitions will be markedly more apparent in 2013 than in previous years because the UEM have signed a deal with Eurosport to carry their four speedway competitions - they also run a pairs' and junior team championship - live across Europe, hopefully including Eurosport UK. With the SGP series struggling to find a broadcaster in the UK, the UEM series could replace it as the premier competition on our screens, and to have no British participants seems unwise.

Last year's title was won by Ales Dryml, who proved that it is possible to combine racing in the Elite League, and his native Czech Republic, with a tilt at the title, so perhaps in 2014 we may see the likes of King, Kennet, and Bridger on our screens, mixing it with the nearlymen of continental Europe.

ITEM: In what must seem like a very Ben Barker-heavy issue of Speeding Motorcycles, he was also the first name to be announced for the 2013 Speedway Riders' Benevolent Fund benefit meeting at Berwick in March. Barker won the 2012 meeting, at Birmingham's Perry Barr raceway, and is the only man to have ridden in every edition of the charity event, so it's fitting that he should be the first name on the racecard come March.

The Ben Fund meeting has been granted to Berwick because of their sterling work in raising funds for the cause - to provide assistance to injured and retired ex-speedway riders, and hopefully a big crowd will make their way to Shielfield Park on Saturday March 9th.

I attended the Birmingham meeting and had a great time, with some dedicated riders giving their all for nothing more than a pat on the back. Usually, I'm not a believer in the school of thought that says these riders are doing it for our entertainment - they get paid (quite well, some of them) after all, but this is one of the rare occasions when they do. Also, the turnstiles are manned by referees, so if you delay handing over your money you may get the chance to ask Dan Holt just what he was thinking not excluding Dave North at Ipswich in July, or trade sartorial tips with Christina Turnbull.

If you can't make the long haul to England's furthest outpost (take that, Scots!), then please make sure you give a hefty donation next time the buckets are passed round at your track, or send a cheque to SRBF, c/o ACU House, Wood Street, Rugby, CV21 2YX. You know it makes sense.

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