Monday, 4 February 2013

Losses, Gains, Management & Mismanagement

ITEM: Matija Duh would probably never have been world champion. Like so many other speedway riders, he no doubt dreamed of it, though, and it was in pursuit of this dream that he lost his life, a victim of the risks that make our sport so thrilling.

As far as I'm aware, Duh never raced on British soil, though I've not carried out an exhaustive check, but his death made as big an impression on British fans as one of their own. That's our sport in a nutshell - we shout, hurl abuse, vent our spleens at these guys, but we appreciate the dangers they face every time they come to the tapes and feel their passing no less for the distance between us.

Once the mourning stops - and for a few it won't, not properly - our thoughts should turn to stopping it happening again. We'll never make the sport truly safe - to do so would rob it of its appeal - but we have to ensure that every reasonable step is taken to ensure these tragedies are rarer than they already are. Duh died half a world away, racing in a country where speedway may look the same but is, in reality, a very different animal. However, this should never excuse any lapse in safety provision - should it be proved there was one - every rider, on every track, deserves equal protection.

Airfences didn't prevent Lee Richardson's fatal accident, and you can never be certain that they would make a difference to any injury suffered at a track without one, but we are reaching a point where they have to be seen to be a vital part of the safety equipment at every track that stages speedway. Some tracks argue that they cannot install an airfence, and that has been so far accepted as a valid excuse. However, remove the word "air" from that sentence and see how far you get trying to run speedway at a track with no fence at all - we simply wouldn't countenance it, and neither should we tolerate it for anything else.

The expense is prohibitive, I accept that. But you can't put a price on a life. Speedway has many problems that require pressing attention and the entire BSPA working together, but let's get the safety aspect out of the way first, okay?

ITEM: More talk, then, of new tracks - this time at Aldermarston, in Berkshire - and hope springs eternal when it comes to this sort of thing. The stadium, rudimentary as it is, already stages stock car racing, but the owner is looking to move over to speedway racing, and is confident that not only will he win the approval to do it for the fourteen events he is presently allowed to stage, but also have that extended to the near-20 you'd need to run a proper speedway season.

Aldermarston is a dozen miles from Reading, which suffered a slow death brought about by the obsessive, moronic tinkering of BSI, and you'd hope that there are enough of the old crowd - along with those curious souls attracted by any new entertprise - to make the venture a success. Aldermarston Racers has a certain ring, to it, don't you think?

As for the other prospective additions to our little family, Bodmin has been quiet for an eternity, and Castleford are still searching for land. Bristol seems to have dropped off the radar - caught up in red tape, no doubt - and Norwich is inching towards a resolution, hopefully positive, but it looks like 2014 before a wheel will be turned in anger there.

It's a disappointing but inevitable part of modern life, that you are allowed to be outraged, offended, and put out despite the views of others (the majority of whom, as regards speedway, couldn't give a flying fig whether bikes roar round a track for fifteen minutes a week, one way or another). It's just a shame that speedway doesn't have the backing HS2 will get from government - now wouldn't that be a thing!

ITEM: As I write we're four days into February, and Coventry Speedway still haven't announced their new team manager, apparently in place for a while, but subject to some kind of contract that prevents his unveiling. The smart money is on Gary Havelock, though quite what contract he's locked into - other than Vodafone, perhaps - is anyone's guess.

I'm a Coventry fan. You know that. And as such, I go a little easier on them than I otherwise would if things that happened at Brandon happened at, say, Blunsdon or Arlington (let alone Belle Vue!). This latest schmozz, there's no massibe negative fallout from it, apart from a minor PR hiccough, it's just annoying.

Yes, the fans were getting a little restless, and I can see why Mick Horton felt the need to report that a deal had been done, but to then put an arbitrary deadline on the announcement was unnecessary and unhelpful, and has backfired somewhat.

Luckily, the only ones who have really paid attention to it are those who obsess over such things, like myself and my fellow devotees, so no real damage will be done.But PR is so vital to everything today - putting the right spin on what you do and what you say can tilt the balance between success and disaster - that you wonder why they (and by no means is Mick Horton alone in this) keep scoring own goals?

The answer, I suspect, is that it's a symptom of speedway's tradition of planning for the extremely short-term, and a microcosm of the problems we face each and every year when we have little idea what the sport may look like in twelve months' time. Plus ├ža change, eh?

ITEM: Belle Vue announced the third member of their 2013 septet this week - a returnee from last season in Artur Mroczka - but they still look no nearer naming a competitive Elite League side than they did in November. Still, no panic, eh? It's not as if the season is only four and a half weeks away...

There has been an attempt to spin the Aces' recruitment problems on their race night, and the peculiar fact that there are no flights from Manchester to Sweden in time for Tuesday night racing. However, Wolverhampton seem to have no such problems - indeed, they have a penchant for Swedes down Monmore way, and I can't believe that the extra 75 miles would make that much difference.

Belle Vue's apologist have also focussed on their tradition of securing a number one rider, despite such difficulties, over the years, ignoring that none of them seem very keen to come back for a second year. As a perfect illustration, they reached an agreement with Coventry to buy Rory Schlein before the 2012 season, seemingly defaulted on the payments, and the rider himself couldn't find another club fast enough.

No, Belle Vue have a whole heap of issues, some of their own making, others they've fallen into, and little seems to work up there in Manchester lately. Hopefully the new National Speedway Stadium - the Aces' King Arthur - will change everything around but it may need more than just that. A new broom sweeps clean but a broken, dust-encrusted broom can make the cleanest room look dirty. Sometimes trying and hoping isn't enough.

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