VICE-CHAIRMAN Jon Cook admitted speedway bosses had to take the rap over the fiasco surrounding Gary Havelock’s farewell meeting at Poole.
The British Speedway Promoters Association (BSPA) infuriated fans of the shale sport by moving the Elite Riders Championship (ERC) to the same date – Friday, March 21 – as Pirates legend Havelock’s swansong at Wimborne Road to accommodate Sky coverage.
Supporters took to Twitter in their droves, calling for riders and spectators to boycott the ERC, while Pirates team manager Neil Middleditch branded the switch “disgraceful”.
Cook, co-promoter at Elite League club Lakeside Hammers, accepted mistakes had been made but insisted the “hugely regrettable” situation was not beyond repair.
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Echo, Cook said: “The biggest error on our part was not finding out the depth of planning that Gary had put into his meeting. That is where the real guilt lies.
“Testimonials move all the time and on the face of it two months would normally have been more than enough time to move things around without it being problematic.
“But Gary has put an extraordinary amount of work into this and in hindsight we should have picked up the phone to him earlier.
“In a normal working situation this would not have presented a problem. I don’t know whether things would have been different if they had known more at the time.
“This is no average testimonial but we will continue to speak to Gary and I am sure we can redeem the situation in the days ahead.”
But despite Cook’s sympathetic ear, it seems the BSPA are unlikely to budge.
In a statement released yesterday, the BSPA moved to clarify that Sky “provide the association with potential schedule dates for events” via commercial rights holder Go Speed International and “are not to blame for the direct clash”.
Cook confirmed the date change had been the BSPA’s decision but that they were “stuck between a rock and a hard place” when allocating slots.
“We have a contractual obligation to both Sky and Go Speed,” he said. “Shared events were an important part of the renewal. Sky needed to show this meeting and asked what we could do.
“At that point it became apparent there was only one date acceptable to all parties and it was the date nobody wanted. Our responsibility is not only to Sky but also to our clubs to get the best out of shared events (financially).”
Cook continued: “The management committee and Go Speed are at the coal face, making the final calls so we have to take responsibility. It is as simple as that.
“Sometimes you have to manage unpopular decisions which are going to upset someone. In this case it is Gary and that is extremely regrettable. He does not deserve this.”
Meanwhile, Cook politely declined to comment on whether the BSPA would attempt to renegotiate a date for the ERC with Sky.