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Speedway: Rule-makers must make the sport 'cool' again
THE late, great actress Mae West was forthright when she said “too much of a good thing can be wonderful”.
She had clearly never been to speedway on a cold, murky night in October.
Only in the shale sport could a competition featuring so few teams you can count them on one hand start in a fresh, breezy March and finish in chilly, dank October.
But the shambles of the 2012 Knockout Cup was just one of a host of problems facing the sport’s rulers as the nights began to close in.
Speedway always heads into its winter AGM laden with more questions than answers, but, this year, the club promoters had much to ponder after a 2012 season beset by problems with the weather.
The obvious solution to the fixture backlog thrown up by the British summer? Slash the number of meetings by binning the Knockout Cup.
After the farcical scenes that saw Pirates’ semi-final opponents drawn from a hat, there really was nowhere for the competition to go in 2013 and, to the BSPA’s credit, the competition has been scrapped.
That was as sensible as the winter decision-making got, however.
With dozens of world class riders already forced away from the sport in this country due to ludicrous team-building limits (hereafter referred to generally as ‘rules) and a bulging fixture list, the powers-that-be decided to re-asses the averages of new foreign riders for 2013 – ruling out the likes of exciting youngsters Piotr Pawlicki and Bartosz Zmarzlik from racing in this country.
They join a lengthening list featuring the likes of Jason Crump, Antonio Lindback, Jarek Hampel and Greg Hancock, who would all rather earn their corn once a week in Poland and Sweden than trek around Britain’s congested motorways three times a week to ride in the Elite League.
Even for a sport that continually shoots itself in the foot, this was yet another rule for rules sake. It might level the playing field, of course, but what good is that when nobody is watching?
Indeed, so watered down has the Elite League become that it is now laughable to even call it ‘Elite’.
So, what are the answers?
All the paying public have ever asked for is a clear, concise set of rules for a sport that far too often becomes bogged down in complexity.
Doubling-up, rider replacement, guests, percentages of averages and general all-round statistics that probably bore even the riders themselves have left the sport stuck in the dark ages.
It might help the camping chair brigade, who sit in the same spot each and every week at stadiums across the country, sipping coffee from a flask and filling in their programmes.
But teenage Johnny in his Monster Energy cap, hoodie and Vans would rather stay at home on a Wednesday and play on his Playstation or watch the Champions League than be forced to bring an abacus to a sporting event.
Clubs like Poole have a loyal, dedicated supporter-base that, come rain or shine, will part with their money each and every Wednesday night.
But the real worry for the sport as a whole is who follows these die-hards in years to come.
Like it or not, Monster cap Johnny is the future of the sport.
Speedway could help itself – and it must start to do so before it withers away to nothing.
As well as the rules requiring a degree in mathmatics, potential punters would be put off by the amount of time it can take to trudge through a 15-heat meeting.
Riders returning to the pits following a crash or tapes offence must be stopped. The amount of time the riders spend ‘gardening’ on the start line before a heat must be stopped.
Moreover, fans of any sport want to support a ‘team’ – not two regulars, three guests and rider replacement. How can supporters develop any kind of affinity with their track heroes when riders from other clubs are pulling on make-shift vests to race for a pay-day?
And that is even before the winter dismantling of successful teams begins – due to, yes, you’ve guessed it, the rules.
Essentially, though, the sport needs to be made ‘cool’.
It has ‘cool’ riders like Chris Holder, Darcy Ward, Michael Jepsen Jensen and Maciej Janowski and the Elite League now needs a big-name sponsor like Red Bull or Monster Energy to take it forward, as the latter has done with the Grand Prix series.
Would those brands buy into the idea unless the promoters start listening to the fans and doing more to make the sport more appealing to the masses in this country, however?
Well, over to you, guys...