The Daily Mail has wholeheartedly joined the Internet age with various blogs on its website and, quite amazingly, one of these is dedicated to speedway! It’s called Speedway from Skezza with a masthead that features a photograph of a youthful looking member of the newspaper staff. Albeit one with an irksome matey nickname, gel in his hair, suspiciously darkened eyebrows and the hint of a 12 o’clock shadow. Vanity in tonsorial matters isn’t a crime but, judged by his first contribution (October 3) on the need to “freshen up” the Speedway Grand Prix, poor research is definitely a failing. This first post immediately marks him out as a journalist with Jonathan Green’s light touch level of insight and understanding. Perhaps, before he fulminates to all and sundry another time in true Glenda Slag fashion, Skezza could first venture out to some of the speedway tracks in this country rather than just hold forth after a brief glance in the pages of the Speedway Star?
As far as I’m aware, in the speedway world only Philip Rising so far has rather self-interestedly advanced the suggestion that the GP Qualifying Series shouldn’t any longer contribute three riders to the SGP series. This appeared recently in the pages of the Speedway Star and Skezza immediately slavishly toes this particular party line. There’s no accounting for ambition and, if ingratiating yourself into the speedway hierarchy requires starting at the bottom (and lavishly kissing it), then Skezza is well on the road to becoming Philip’s amanuensis.
Ironically, given the fiasco of the event in Gelsenkirchen, Skezza appears to labour under the misapprehension that the organisers of the SGP are marvellously efficient business people with a proven track record of staging well attended speedway extravaganzas (that have nowadays become just a little tired round the edges). Apparently, all that’s needed to reinvigorate things is to dump the Qualifiers, invite some exciting up and coming young speedway talent and, hey presto, everything is bright and shiny again. There are many problems with the SGP but unfortunately this particular ‘problem’ wouldn’t make the Top 10 Issues To Solve List for the hapless BSI Speedway management team.
The far from subtle commercial subtext of the Rising campaign concerns the control and exploitation of the speedway World Championship brand. Presently, BSI Speedway – the wholly IMG owned company in charge of the SGP – promotes and runs the series itself while controlling all the commercial rights. Most notably the lucrative television rights along with advertising/sponsorship under the notionally watchful eye of the FIM. However, given the noises off voiced by Philip, this probably isn’t a sufficiently profitable enough trough for BSI snouts to be thrust into without still coveting total control of the product. While the qualifying event remains under the auspices of the FIM to administer/run, then BSI Speedway only get to pick 13 of the 16 riders who compete at each event. If apologists can ensure that the qualification process ends – with the notional fig leaf of advocating the ‘greater good of the sport’ through meritorious young rider development – then the cash cow is forever there to milk without notional oversight or restriction. Quite whether League speedway in Britain would survive and prosper under such an ‘enhanced’ regime doesn’t enter this particular equation, especially while there’s money to be made and fans to be exploited. Even if they’re not true, rumours already abound that the sponsor monies for riders appearing regularly on the telly are so lucrative for competitors that a rider could ‘buy their selection’ for one of the grace and favour places BSI Speedway control and so become a full time member of the series. The very idea that such an opportunity exists (even if in reality it doesn’t) wouldn’t happen with a more transparent system but should worry anyone concerned at the integrity of the SGP ‘brand’ (whether fans, IMG or even BSI Speedway).
Going back to Skezza’s blog, he notes something that’s structurally hard to avoid “the world championship is in need of being freshened up with some new faces as the same old riders reaching the final really undersells the value of the sport.” It’s undeniably true that there are always the same top five or six riders battling it out among themselves. For want of a better word, many people find this lack of change “boring” (implicitly so too does Philip Rising) – though it must be noted that BSI Speedway already select the majority of these riders and surely a company that allegedly can’t be bothered to spend a pittance to their own cover shale as it lies outside the stadium in Gelsenkirchen has massive question marks hanging over its ability to organise even the most basic of tasks. These are, of course, the marketing geniuses who elected to stage the final event of their own SGP series – in a country with no speedway tradition to speak of – on the same night that 76,000 people were attracted to World Cup qualifying football match (Germany versus Russia) held only a few miles away in Dortmund! (And, after a decade in charge, surely it’s not asking too much for exciting racing never mind that the championship venues and format aren’t endlessly tinkered with?) Given for some time now that the same riders are always competing at the top end of the championship table, this also indicates that most newcomers invariably can’t mix it at the top level, never mind that this championship effectively sorts out the metaphorical men from the boys. Pick almost any rider outside the top six and, though they’ve invested in the paraphernalia of the SGP – staff, tiptop equipment (and gained sponsors) – they’ve invariably gone backwards! This is undeniably the case for Kasprzak, Harris, Nicholls, Lindback and now even Pedersen (B), who’ve all ultimately found the step up to the plate too big a leap to really manage.
Ultimately, BSI Speedway wouldn’t really care if no one turned up to watch – other than from a window dressing point of view – since every meeting is heavily sponsored and the television rights already pre-sold. The riders are almost equally expendable (and interchangeable) from the BSI perspective since there is also a steady stream of them desperate to take part. For some years, BSI Speedway have patently operated a ‘if your face fits and you come from a country where television rights are lucrative’ grace and favour selection policy (cf. Nicholls, Harris) and thereby manage the more notionally ‘exciting’ Yo Yo riders who fail to ‘qualify’ with a top eight finish. In this greater context, surely it’s not too much to ask that the GP Qualifiers remain even if it denies the organisers to cherry pick absolutely everybody in the field? When an important speedway competition is run in cavalier fashion by a company facing questions marks over its competence as well as about the calibre of staff and decision-making, then allowing due process for three riders from round the world to qualify for a boring tournament should surely be a necessary evil.
Let’s for a moment allow Skezza and Philip their fantasy selection of Holder, Pavlic and Sajfutdinov (or Woffinden). Surely this would be a disaster for the confidence and long-term development of these riders? Even if one beats the odds to succeed, then the others would most likely have their confidence destroyed (like so many other promising riders before them) in the white heat of SGP competition against the top six established riders. Surely, at some point, BSI Speedway and their boosters like Philip and Skezza owe some duty of care to the sport, riders and fans? Fine, serve up as much processional racing as you like on often dangerous or shoddy tracks in nice stadia but surely the mook – riders, fans and probably now also even the sponsors (if judged by their handing of Gelsenkirchen) – deserve more respect and consultation rather than continued contempt?