Monday, 29 April 2013

Woffinden, Bradford, Kerr & Shooting Yourself In The Foot

ITEM: As the only British representative in the grand prix series this year, Tai Woffinden ought to be enjoying universal support from British fans. Yet his outstanding early season form, carried over into the SGPs, has been met with a wide variety of responses, including some who really don't seem to care one jot that he's representing their country on the world stage.

Why is this? The obvious answer is his Australian upbringing, that British fans haven't really taken to him as one of their own, despite him being born in the UK to British parents, and nailing his colours firmly to the mast at an early age. Having spent his formative years in Western Australia, Tai speaks with a pronounced Australian accent, enough to put anybody off, but it's unfair to blame him for that. And, yes, he spends his winters down under, but this is understandable, given a good deal of his life - friends, family, familiar territory - can be found there, and the odd track outing helps him to keep sharp.

It's true that he hasn't helped himself in this regard in the past - having the Aussie flag on the inside of his handlebars, making the odd outburst on Twitter about switching nationalities, and he once committed the heinous crime of helping out the Australian team in the World Cup, even going so far as to wear branded teamwear while doing so.

Even with all that going on, I'm not sure there are a huge number of those who aren't getting behind Tai that actually believe he's not properly British. Yes, they may use it as an easy quip, a get-out to avoid explaining other reasons, but only the most jingoistic, anti-Australian British speedway fan wouldn't welcome a rider of Tai's ability competing under the union jack.

Muddying the waters is the British fans' weird penchant for backing their own clubs' riders over British rivals. It's not a new thing - I was astonished when I first became a speedway fan that Oxford or Cradley Heath fans would rather cheer for Nielsen or Gundersen than Tatum or Wigg at World Finals - and it still continues to this day, with Poole fans so eager to back their Australians that they may as well hoist the southern cross over stadium and play Waltzing Matilda before every meeting. Tai suffers from this as much as any British rider of the past, but probably more so given he's ridden for just three clubs in his short career so far. Outside of Wolverhampton, Scunthorpe, and Hoddesdon, British speedway fans may choose their local heroes over the British representative, no matter what he says or does.

Probably the biggest reason fans have yet to get behind the lone Brit is the spiky personality he has displayed in the past. Put simply, and this does seem to be the prevailing opinion of Tai from most Elite League fans outside of the WV postcode, he's not very likeable. This hasn't stopped riders from being world class, and even supported by a majority of their countrymen, in the past but it does make a huge difference when you switch from friendly and humble British representatives like Harris, Nicholls, and Loram, to enfant terribles like Tai and Lewis Bridger.

Given time, and with a careful managing of his image, Tai will win people over. He's still young, and the mistakes of youth tend to fade with time. Until then, he'll have to be patient, and his fans, too, will need to be tolerant. He's doing all the right things right now - let's hope this carries on for some time yet.

ITEM: Tony Mole is at it again. Having already resurrected speedway at Workington and Birmingham in the last fifteen years, he's trying to bring back speedway at Odsal Stadium, Bradford, which last saw bikes take to the track in 1997.

While there are a number of difficulties to overcome, the chances of the revival succeeding look fair to good, and it would be a massive shot in the arm for speedway in west Yorkshire, which was served so well by Halifax and Bradford over the years, as well as occasional speedways at Castleford and Leeds.

I do wonder, though, with Mole - respectfully - not getting any younger, if this isn't a chance for the powers-that-be to try a new approach to speedway ownership. A franchise agreement, with the promoting rights held jointly by all BSPA member clubs, and thus all risks spread equally, would enable them to try new methods of promoting.

With a large, dormant fanbase waiting to be tapped into, as well as a wide catchment area of 1.5million people (Britain's fourth largest urban area), initiatives that may seem daring or too off-the-wall to be tried at existing tracks might find a testing field at Odsal. Speedway is by no means unique in this regard, but regular fans are often strangely distrustful of special offers, and season ticket holders grumble that they don't receive the discounts offered to casual fans to try and increase the crowd figures, and therefore income, which are so vital to the continued existence of tracks up and down the country.

It's pie-in-the-sky stuff, as is so much of the fantasies I present in this blog, but the traditional way of doing things is a coping strategy at best. A blockbuster re-opening like Bradford seems too good an opportunity to pass up.

ITEM: Lewis Kerr has had a fantastic start to the season - all the more remarkable given he didn't have a solid team place until the middle of March, although he had agreed to share a reserve spot with Lewis Blackbird at Leicester before Newcastle offered him one outright.

His success is testament to Newcastle's recent policy of giving British youth a chance - last year they signed both Worrall brothers, having had Richie Worrall and Joe Haines in their 2011 line-up. This season they are tracking five British riders and should be applauded for that approach, which is working out fine on the track.

Kerr is a graduate of King's Lynn's National League side, and shows the importance of investing in youth. Elite League sides Poole and Belle Vue have operated teams at this level in recent seasons, and currently Coventry are competing alongside the Young Stars in the NL.

Running a side at this level is no guarantee of unearthing talent, of course, although Poole & Belle Vue's brief forays did provide Kyle Newman, Kyle Howarth, and Jason Garrity with their first fledgling steps into league racing. It should be supported by all, because if we are to get to the point where our leagues can look solid and largely homegrown, we need an army of Lewis Kerrs to fill those places.

For now, let's encourage and congratulate him on his efforts, give him the time and space to grow, and hope more Premier League sides take a chance on National League riders like Robert Branford, James Sarjeant, Lee Smart, Charles Wright, and others, rather than a struggling Aussie/German/Finn out of their depth and taking up a space they really don't deserve.

ITEM: Several Coventry fans have reported going to the cinema this past weekend and seeing an advert for the Bees, up there on the big screen. This is a fantastic - and I dare say not cheap - effort by the Coventry promotion to bring in new fans from the thousands who obviously have enough disposable income that they'll spend it on sitting in a popcorn-filled, over-heated windowless coffin, enjoying the latest "blockbusters" served up by Hollywood.

The advert was produced by Clean Cut Sports, who film every Coventry meeting, as well as at tracks up and down the country, owned by speedway enthusiast and evangelist Peter Ballinger. Peter also films at Coventry Blaze ice hockey, utilising modern technology to provide webcasts and send speedy footage to local news outlets, spreading the gospel of British ice hockey.

I dare say that the advert - which I've not been lucky enough to see yet - and exciting clips from the tracks where Clean Cut (and equivalent producers across the leagues) film would find quite the audience on YouTube, but unfortunately Clean Cut are prevented from posting it.

YouTube is one of the biggest success stories of the internet era. Careers are made from videos going viral, and it's an essential tool for any kind of entertainment business to drive interest and income to their product. I can't back this up in any quantitative manner, but I would almost guarantee that there have been people who have gone along to see speedway at their local tracks in the past - or at least tuned in to watch it on Sky - because of an exciting clip they've been linked to on YouTube. It's a no-brainer, ys?

Except, for some baffling reason, Clean Cut, Re-Run, and the rest, are still prevented from using their footage like this. And have been since the start of last season when a directive from GoSpeed International - owned by Terry Russell - and presumably backed by the BSPA, outlawed it.

It may be that Sky, having paid for the rights to show Elite (and some Premier) League speedway, don't want any other action being available on any other platform. I find this unlikely, but that may be the case. A simple look around YouTube, though, finds footage (illicitly) captured from Sky broadcasts and posted on the site, so it doesn't seem they're too bothered about this kind of thing.

So I'd like to know why. I'd like to know why, having already taken a healthy cut of the Sky deal, GSI places such restrictions on those trying to eke a living out of a sport they love. I'd like to know why speedway, short of fans and with an ageing fanbase, doesn't exploit one of the internet's most free and easy to use tools to promote itself to a wider audience. And I'd like to know why we need a GSI anymore, and just who it benefits.

I won't hold my breath.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Problem Euros, Young Heroes, Good GPs & Aussie Zeroes

ITEM: The European Championships, promoted by the newly-rebranded FIM-Europe, got underway on Saturday, with the first qualifying round in Chervonograd, Ukraine, won by former Poole rider Leon Madsen. The meeting was to have included Scott Nicholls, but he was pulled at the last minute due to logistical issues with the timing of the four-round finals.

People have been quick to jump on the BSPA, who seem to have taken all authority from the ACU & SCB these days, and blame them for a British rider not being able to take part in what is - at least with the new TV and sponsorship deals - a major competition, and odds are you'd usually be right to point that finger, but the fault actually lies elsewhere for once.

Over the winter, the various federations, along with the FIM, agreed a calendar of events, with FIM events obviously taking precedence over any fixture clashes with those licensed by the national federations. The calendar was prepared as best as possible to also avoid fixture clashes between the national federations, and it was agreed that in the event of a fixture being rearranged from its original date to a clashing date, the fixture originally in the calendar would take preference.

Previously, if - for example - a Polish meeting was rearranged, any rider on a Polish license would have to ride in that meeting, regardless of whether he had a booking elsewhere. Under the new system, the Polish rider would have to honour his original booking, although it's expected the pressure put on any rider by his club is going to lead to some ridiculous episodes down the line.

What does all this have to do with the European Championships? FIM-Europe - previously the UEM - did not have input into the new calendar, and chose their dates arbitrarily. Some of their dates clash with meetings already approved in the official FIM calendar, and this is why Scott Nicholls was withdrawn from the competition, and why Hans Andersen and Peter Kildemand, amongst others, were refused permission to take part.

It may be, in future years, that FIM-Europe are invited to the table when the fixtures are prepared, although in an already-crowded international calendar it is difficult to see how league speedway can be completely accomodated alongside a new, senior competition with at least four "grand prix" finals as well as a number of qualifying meetings.

With big money - and the Polish authorities, seemingly - backing the European Championship series, it's not difficult to imagine a clash with the BSI-engineered Speedway Grand Prix too far down the line. At the moment, the BSPA seems to be sensibly sticking to the official FIM line, perhaps waiting to see who's going to win this particular fight (if I'm not giving them too much credit). Speedway's never dull, eh?

ITEM: So third-tier speedway returned to Brandon Stadium for the first time in almost a decade, and for the first time in a third division proper, the National League, when Dudley Heathens visited for the second-leg of the TravelPlus Trophy last Friday.

The first leg, at Dudley's borrowed Monmore Wod track, resulted in a thumping victory for the Heathens, but the Storm - as Coventry's new junior team have been named - showed enough even in that heavy defeat that the return leg would be a different affair. And so it was, with Dudley taking the match - and the trophy - with a last heat 5-1. Their fans celebrated as if they'd won the Elite League, but then they always were an odd lot over that way...

Perhaps the only disappointing thing about the night - which saw some close racing, a fair number of passes, and a couple of exciting (but ultimately harmless) falls to thrill the fans - was the crowd, which I'd estimate at around 700. Given that a good 300 of those were Heathens' fans, attracting just 400 or so, at £10 a go, has to be a little disappointing.

A sensible estimate for breakeven at this level in a rented stadium has to be around 500-600 fans. Meetings against Dudley are always going to help your average, but I don't imagine the Isle of Wight, for example, bringing many - if any - away fans. It's bewildering that only a third or so of Coventry's regular sport came out on a fine evening, for a local derby, at a discounted price, but speedway folk are odd and normal rules don't apply to them.

The next National League meeting at Brandon is home to Mildenhall on May 17th in the Knockout Cup. Hopefully the Bees' fans, who really should be eager for something to take their minds off a woeful season to-date, will turn out in good numbers. Weekly speedway - and support for young British riders - is too precious a thing to lose to apathy and penny-pinching.

ITEM: It was one of those rare things on Saturday night - a cracking Grand Prix. Unsurprisingly, it was held at a league track, not one of the Frankenstein creations that BSI like to excrete into "plush" stadiums in capital cities or a rarely-used raceway in one of speedway's third world countries.

The racing at Bydgoszcz was superb at times, and almost never processional, an absolute inverse of Western Springs, which disappointed for the second year running. And the next GP is a Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, once again on a plasticine creation, and I'm not expecting miracles.

The win for Emil Sayfutdinov was warmly-applauded at Speeding Motorcyles Towers, and the performance of Tai Woffinden has been celebrated by those who care about such things - both riders have started the series well, and it looks - at least at this early stage - that it'll be quite an open field for contenders this year.

ITEM: A common moan is that speedway doesn't receive anywhere near the press attention it should, and it's hard not be sympathetic to that point of view. There are times, however, when the general ignorance shown towards our sport by the national press is a blessing in disguise - never more so than last weekend.

If speedway earned anywhere near the column inches that football, rugby, or even tennis does, it's quite probable that the story of the reigning world champion, an up and coming young Grand Prix star, and another Australian "star" rider getting thrown out a nightclub, and which involved possible sexual assault, nudity, public urination, and fighting, would have made the front page of The Sun for a good few days, as well as some harrumphing from the direction of the Mail and Express.

As it is, even our own Speedway Star will ignore it, because that is what they do, and other than some stern words from the riders' respective promoters (you would hope, anyway) those involved with have gotten away with it again. Speedway is supposed to be a professional sport. Thank God the papers don't treat it as such.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Of Stadiums, Scandals & Other Things

ITEM: So the first of a number of hurdles has been jumped by Belle Vue in their pursuit of a new stadium. Agreement was given for the project to go ahead at a meeting of the local council, and while planning permission is still to be sought and granted, and the funding not quite in place, it would surely take a catastrophe the size of Belle Vue’s last few seasons to prevent it now.

If you were being charitable to me you could say I’ve been skeptical about the chances of it actually happening since the first announcement, and I still remain to be fully convinced that those behind the project are the right men to deliver it. However, I’m nothing if not fair, and getting this far is a good step towards making it a reality.

I still have concerns over the development of a National Speedway Stadium being left in the hands of the promoters of a single club rather than being held as facility for the whole sport by the ACU, SCB or BSPA as a unit, but if Morton, Gordon, and (most importantly) Carswell are the men backing it, we have to trust that they will be fair and proper custodians.

I’d still be cautious about the involvement of the new stadium in the SGP series or the SWC because, as it currently stands, BSI promote the British Grand Prix themselves, and may be unwilling to give up their golden calf or even allow a “competing” GP to take place in a far more fan-friendly location than its current home.

However, you can’t see this green light as anything other than a good thing at this stage, and I hope to be eating my hat at further opportunities along the way.

ITEM: There have been a couple of what you would “pre-emptive rain-offs” this week, and it’s a difficult decision to make based on the reliability of a weather forecast. If you get it right, congratulations on your foresight are few and far between, but if you get it wrong you can bet you’ll not hear the last of it for some time to come. And even if it seems you’ve gotten it right, there’s always some amateur meteorologist, usually miles away from the track, who was able to hang his washing out and so cannot understand couldn’t the meeting have gone ahead!

No promoter calls off a meeting without a very good reason. I’ll admit, once in a while, that the reason they give isn’t always 100% accurate, and that a rain-off is extremely suspicious (usually because they’re missing half the team, or because it delays a new average for a certain rider), but mostly they’re as disappointed as the rest of us.

Calling off a meeting costs hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds to the promoter. If he rents the track from a landlord, the rent still has to be paid, and it’s a date when money could have been made lost for the season. Late call-offs often mean riders’ flights have been purchased, programmes have been printed, and food for the concession stands ordered. These outlays aren’t always refundable.

The alternative to calling off a meeting when the forecast is bad is to run and hope for the best. Sometimes you get away with it, but you can bet that the crowd will be down on what it normally would have been in fine weather, because while people seem fine with a promoter risking thousands of pounds on a soggy meeting they won’t risk their own £20 in case it rains!

It’s a lose-lose situation for the promoter, and with the sport desperate for money and the economy being what it is, we should at least support them if they take such steps. Yes, it’s fun to laugh, and poke fun at Poole for raining off a meeting when two of their top four were out, or at Coventry for not entertaining King’s Lynn with a woefully out-of-form side, but we don’t have a small fortune resting on such decisions.

No, far better to keep your powder dry, and save your moans for the really disappointing decisions made by promoters these days. It’s not as if we’re short of those, is it?

ITEM: Someone famous died this week. You might have read about it. While I’m not going to go into my own feelings on that woman, although if you follow me on Twitter you probably have a fair idea, I will at least say she was a divisive figure. And that it seems to be the done thing to not speak ill of the dead, no mater what they did in life.

Weirdly enough, I was chatting with some friends last week about a someone connected with our sport who died in recent years, and the part he may have played in a scandal. The gist of the conversation was that, because he passed away, the truth was very unlikely to ever come out about the scandal because no-one would want to be seen speaking ill of the dead.

Those involved alongside him were probably very good friends and although the scandal broke because of a betrayal of friendship, I’d say that those ties will forever mean the real story will remain untold. Is that a good thing? It’s not for me to say, and although I’m usually all for openness and veracity I would err on the side of decorum on this one. The victim – if you can use that word, because he was certainly as guilty as the ones who got away with it – seems content to take the fall, and that should be that.

It’s an odd thing, the search for the truth. I would say, in the short time that I’ve been writing about speedway and – for want of a better word – gossip-mongering, that I’ve made a few errors. Not always in the information I’ve passed on and discovered, but in whether I should have done so. It’s a fine line to walk, and one which needs checking from time to time to ensure you’re on the right track. I hope I’ll continue to come down on the right side for as long as I do this.

ITEM: Things have one quiet again on the new track front, although Kent – at Sittingbourne’s Central Park – open their doors for the first time in just over 3 weeks’ time. Nothing new has been heard from Norwich, or Aldermarston, or Bristol or Cornwall, for the past few weeks, and it’s a case of sitting tight and hoping that no news is certainly good news.

One small ray of sunshine that has emerged in that sphere of interest is the participation of the Northside training track, outside Workington, in the Northern Junior League competition. Home matches will be run at the rapidly-developing facility on Saturday afternoons, a strangely untapped staging time for the sport, perhaps wary of competing with football and rugby league for the attention and finances of the sporting public.

The Northside facility, run by the Branney family, has staged rounds of the British Youth Championship in recent years, with few problems, and I’ve often wondered if it might not be the answer to the lack of third-tier opportunities for those from Scotland and the north of England. This, a dipping of the toe into the de facto fourth tier, could be a chance to find out just how viable it might be.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Smoli, Inside Speedway, Fixture Madness & Staying Loyal

ITEM: Something very odd happened this week - Martin Smolinski made headline news. Usually he bothers no-one, just getting on with his white-line pootling, averaging somewhere between 4.50 and 5.50, and looking like an absolute disgrace with all that plastic crap all over his bike.

But the past week or so has seen a very different Martin Smolinski, one that scores points for fun, although he still isn't straying very often from that white line, and he still looks a right state, dragging the image of the sport down with his Lego bikes.

As is normal when a usually modest-scoring rider begins to bang in some big scores, questions have been asked, some phrased more politely than others, and some comments definitely made tongue-in-cheek and undeserving of the attention some publicity whores have given them.

The first thing to address is: Is Martin Smolinski cheating? And the answer is, on the balance of all probabilities, no. He doesn't seem the sort, for a start. I'm not sure what that sort actually is, but you know what I mean. Also, there is a procedure - although I can't blame anyone for not putting any trust in such things - to have any suspicion of cheating investigated, and no-one has gone down that route so far. I've no reason to believe they will, either, and that brings m to my second point.

Has Martin Smolinski got an unfair advantage over his competitors? I'm going to say yes. But let me make this very clear - whatever he's doing is within the rules as they stand. From what Smolinski as said, his engine tuner - former world champion Egon Muller - has found a way to incorporate the newly-legalised titanium parts into the engine in such a way that it gives him an unbelievable amount of speed, no matter what line he takes on the track. So, whereas before, Smolinski's white-line love affair saw him scoring mostly at the lower end of the charts, this added power and drive has propelled him to the top of the averages.

Last season Peter Johns did something to the engines that he prepared (and I'm no expert, so I wouldn't have the first idea of what) that gave a similar advantage to riders using a PJR engine - unreal speed that, again, brought some mumbles of cheating. As with the PJR advantage, I'm sure whatever Smolinski & Muller have found will soon be discovered by other tuners and the status quo will return to normal.

Except that it won't, because not everyone can afford a top tuner, and this is the biggest problem facing speedway at the present time. A level playing field, where a young kid does not have to spend tens of thousands of pounds to become even half-competitive is needed. Higher bills for the riders means higher wage demands which means higher entrance fees which means less fans which means tracks closing. So while Birmingham fans may be giddy with glee over Smolinski's recent form, they - as a track which took so long to return from the wilderness - should also cast a worried glance at just where this is all going.

ITEM: A visit to the track shop at Perry Barr this week saw me add a couple of magazines to the growing pile that the missus is always tutting at, with the latest issue of the always-excellent Backtrack and the debut outing for Inside Speedway coming home with me. As you'd expect from a publication I've just described as "always excellent", Backtrack is once again a fantastic read, and well worth £4 of anyone's money if you've even half an interest in our sport's glorious past.

Inside Speedway is a very different animal, so much rooted in the here and now, rather than the glory years of the sport. It's a beautifully-designed magazine, perhaps a little picture-heavy for my tastes, but my tastes aren't exactly normal. It would certainly not look out of place on the shelves in WHSmith, next to Four Four Two and AutoSport, although I wish them good luck getting it into such outlets.

It's very early days, but for my money the content was a little... vanilla. Too many rider interviews can often give the impression that it's less a magazine than a printed game of "look who my friends are!" There could be a great variety of the type of article, too, but this may come in time. The biggest issue is probably the small writing team, who - I gather - are all pretty similar in terms of background, experience, and outlook on the sport. They may benefit from a few "old hands" or a slightly alternative view on things. A few smaller pieces would also be welcome, but that may say more about my lack of an attention span than anything else!

What's not up for discussion is that the guys behind Inside Speedway have produced a worthy product. Plenty of people dream, promise, plan, and scheme, but never deliver, and that's something these guys have got passed and moved on to getting out an actual product. I'd be interested to see how it develops as they grow into the job, and I'll definitely be back for a second issue.

ITEM: There's no hard and fast rules about being a speedway fan, no matter what some people would try to tell you. There are degrees of support, often dictated by disposable income and demands on time, and there's really no point in arguing over who's the better fan and all that gubbins. The only general rule is that you should probably stay loyal to your team, no matter what happens, because the alternative is to turn your back on the sport or - horror of horrors! - transfer your attentions to another side.

Now it's fairly obvious that something isn't right at Coventry at the moment, the latest in a line of somethings stretching back to the 2010 AGM. This season it's the team, which - although we are only three meetings in - is underperforming in the worst way.

It was always a team of "ifs" but I was confident enough that those ifs would turn into certainties that I tipped us to contend for a play-off place. The three major "ifs" were which Krzystzof Kasprzak we'd see, whether Grzegorz Zengota could continue his rehabilitation from a bad injury suffered at the end of 2011, and whether Adam Roynon could come back from the horrible injuries he received in the National League play-off final last October.

We know now that the Roynon issue is moot, although he did look comfortable enough before his crash last week to make me think he wouldn't be a problem, and a six-point average was there for the taking. Zengota has won the majority of his points thus far from the gate, and that's fine - he's riding to his average, and you'd hope that a bit more experience on British tracks, and in weather better suited for racing, would see the odd point earned by a clever pass before too long.

Kasprzak is one of the sport's great engimas. When he's interested and motivated he's a world beater. Sadly, that doesn't happen often enough for my liking, and I don't I'm alone in that. There are whispers that he's not happy with something at Brandon but if I'm honest, that's not my problem - I pay £17 to see him race and if he has any problems with management he shouldn't take it out on the fans who shell out their hard-earned money to watch him.

It's been a tough couple of years for a Bees' fan, but we're not alone. Belle Vue fans have had all manner of indignities to suffer, Wolves - deluded and ever-hopeful as their fans are - are riding the cusp of a slump, and Swindon, before last year's glorious triumph, were a club going nowhere fast. And I'd hate to think how Eastbourne fans must feel. Generally. Not because of any specific issue.

Riders and promoters come and go but your club remains your club. You have to stay faithful, and back them to a certain degree, because if it's ever to come out of whatever crisis/slump/omnishambles it finds itself in it will need people like me and you. That doesn't mean toeing the party line about every single thing - criticism and cynicism are healthy - but it does mean that, when the chips are down you have to roll up your sleeves and dig in with some support.

Will I call a spade a spade and tell the Coventry management in no uncertain terms what I think they've done wrong, and what I think they should do? Of course! But I'll be there every Friday, helping them out with my cash and giving the riders a tiny bit of support. Everyone has a limit to their patience but I think - at Coventry, at least - we're a long way off that point yet. And the alternative is unthinkable.

ITEM: Working out a fixture list for the Elite League can't be an easy job. There are numerous factors to take into account - five different race days, clashes with Premier League meetings for double-up riders, and with Swedish, Polish, and other commitments for the top boys, as well as meetings moved for Sky and stadium availability issues for those who rent.

Ideally, and working off a 25-week season, you'd want between one and two meetings a week, allowing for the Grands Prix and the mid-season SWC shut down. What you certainly could do without is seven meetings - a quarter of your league programme - in the first seventeen days of your season. But that's what Coventry are faced with this season, and the imbalance is all the more obvious when you suffer a injury which should, ordinarily, only rule a rider out of two or three meetings.

The Bees race their seventh meeting on April 15th. If you look at the other Elite League sides, Wolves are the next to reach that point, a full week later, while Birmingham don't race their seventh meeting until May 8th, twenty-three days after the Bees (and by which time the Bees will have raced nine meetings). While it can cut both ways, and Birmingham will certainly want to take advantage of Martin Smolinski's purple patch, it can certainly be argued that a more balanced fixture list will aid them in the long run.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but there has to be a better way than this. It affects team's league chances - one way or another - and it's a burden on the supporters' pockets (with the Bees, in particular, having four meetings in eight days this week, and a Storm meeting thrown in for good measure!). There are bigger issues facing the sport, of course, but that doesn't mean that something can't be done. Let's see, shall we?