Vibe conquers public health messaging for “new era” Discovery Sports Events staging of the FIM British Speedway Grand Prix in Cardiff
THOUGH, apparently, FIM British Speedway Grand Prix “organisers have plenty of surprises lined up to toast two decades of World-Championship motorsport in Cardiff – with a fanzone taking over the city on the Saturday, before racing gets started at 5pm” these “surprises” still remain a total mystery with just three days before the tapes rise on the twentieth SGP staging in Cardiff of the FIM British Speedway Grand Prix.
In the absence of any formal announcement [update: hurrah – on Thursday August 11 – albeit with less than 40 hours notice before the big day gets underway, the news section of official SGP website finally revealed these less than stunning “surprises”], if judged by the comments made by Paul Bellamy about the joys of the retractable roof available at the Principality Stadium (previously Millennium Stadium, Cardiff), it appears that the Warner Bros. Discovery owned events management division, Discovery Sports Events, are, apparently, pressing ahead with their plan to secretly hold an informal “new era” Speedway Grand Prix coronavirus super-spreader event as the biggest “surprise” over this coming twentieth edition of Cardiff based FIM British Speedway GP weekend. If the meetings go ahead with the stadium roof closed [now also belatedly confirmed – albeit only 49 hours beforehand on the Principality Stadium Twitter account or else when spotted by dedicated eagle-eyed speedway fans when it was ‘released’ an all events URL superimposed on a fleetingly glimpsed image on the official Speedway Grand Prix Instagram account – as closed], Discovery Sports Events will maximise the chances that they will get to hold the biggest ever speedway coronavirus super-spreader event in the history of the sport in Britain [now also confirmed as going ahead albeit with “hand sanitiser” available*].
Despite forecasts of one of the hottest SGP weekends on record (34 degrees centigrade) and a pending hosepipe ban, Head of Discovery Sports Events Francois Ribeiro has handed over (abdicated?) his governance and managerial responsibilities for the FIM British SGP at Cardiff to a relatively recently founded company. It is quite something that they – Sidetrack Ltd – won this tender (if there was one) and this sub-contractor got green lighted by Ribeiro without even bothering to have a website (as far as I can establish) or mission statement for an event previously said – judged by claimed attendance figures – to annually generate over £1.5 million but closer to £2 million in total gross revenues^ for the staging promotion. From this “Cardiff organiser” (HT Speedway Star) all we really have to go on in the way of specific information is Bellamy’s suggestion – during a live speedway broadcast from Belle Vue – that the option to close the Principality Stadium retractable roof ensured that the pending British SGP and SGP2 events would definitely go ahead irrespective of the weather.
Anyone who has ever been to watch the SGP at Cardiff knows it is – even at the best of times – already incredibly stuffy and really airless. Indeed, the Cardiff SGP roof closure amplifies the noise of airhorns from the otherwise often mostly bovine crowd into what is so often acclaimed as its unique “atmosphere”. Ian Brannan’s Humans of Speedway podcast takes an expert deep dive into many aspects of speedway life including the triumphs and challenges of the construction and curation of the temporary track inside the Cardiff Principality Stadium. Amongst many things, this fascinating in-depth conversation revealed that since climatic/atmospheric/ambient conditions vary hugely inside the stadium – dependent upon whether or not there is a crowd inside – organisational custom and practice at the Cardiff SGP is to keep the roof shut to control the issues associated with its temporary track. “The other thing to take account of with Cardiff is the condition within the stadium on a Friday is very very different to when the Grand Prix starts. You have the roof which can be open or closed…so we tend to keep the roof closed. Or, if it’s not closed, just a little tiny gap. You get 40000 people coming in who are all breathing out moist air and they’re hot and some may well be sweaty but, nevertheless, you can feel the atmosphere change. You get an atmosphere change like that and the track changes.”
Such a roof closure – or the best case of ventilation with a “tiny gap” – would seem to be particularly reckless in 2022 since this SGP series is being held during an ongoing pandemic? Especially given the huge number of fans directly drawn from the ageing demographic that currently makes up the vast majority of the traditional British club speedway crowd. Since British speedway fans are already drifting away or dying out from natural causes, it is strangely reckless that speedway world governing body the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motorcyclisme), Discovery Sports Events and Sidetrack Limited wish to compound things by potentially further risking damaging their health, incapacitating them and/or hastening their demise by premeditatedly and deliberately closing the Principality Stadium roof? If nothing else, in the absence of definitive information either way, this looks at best lax but commercially self-serving when the opening/closing ceremonies, actual racing and hot sunny weather don’t actively require its closure this weekend.
Unfortunately, even though they have sub-contracted the event, with only three days to go before racing takes place once more inside the Principality Stadium, Discovery Sports Events have conspicuously yet to address – on their website via press releases, news items or postings to their social media outlets – how exactly they plan to protect the health risks of ticket holding speedway fans attending these two Cardiff SGP events from the coronavirus? This is particularly important on Saturday evening at the main British SGP – with its ‘40,000’ crowd – but also, this year, since there is inaugural British meeting of the re-branded SGP2 series as an additional event being staged at the same stadium on the Sunday lunchtime.
Judged by the lack of information on the official FIM [worldwide speedway governing body], SGP, Discovery Sports Events [the Warner Brothers owned “event management division” operating “across five continents”] and Principality Stadium websites (Sidetrack Limited have so little visibility and accountability, they don’t appear to even have a website), every organisation connected with the staging of this event currently wears no knickers when it comes to formal information upon the specifics of the health and safety measures they are implementing or plan to undertake to mitigate coronavirus risks inside the stadium for competitors, staff and fans alike. This is particularly unbecoming approach for global ostensibly blue chip organisations such as Warner Bros. Discovery, their “WBD-owned” Discovery Sports Events division and the FIM. Given the risk profile of the ageing demographic of speedway fans who still make up the vast majority of the Cardiff crowd, this uncertainty does seem an unprofessional and casual approach to the future of the existing speedway audience. Maybe, possibly, even an existential threat to the cohort of fans who are the backbone of British club speedway attendances. ‘Free’ Sunday admission is going to be little or no consolation for the families of any fans who then subsequently test positive and/or are hospitalised as a result of attending.
Of course, collectively the FIM, Discovery Sports Events and their chosen sub-contractor Sidetrack Limited have complete control over whether or not they leave the Principality Stadium retractable roof open or closed throughout this event. Should the weather be fine (sunshine and 30 plus degree temperatures are forecast), it is surely hard to prioritise the “atmosphere” during the racing or the need for darkness during the brief ‘fanfare’ of the ‘spectacular’ opening and closing ceremonies over the need for additional ventilation indoors that the Welsh Government currently (updated 1 July 2022) specifically advises?
If the “Cardiff organiser”, Discovery or the FIM have gained special dispensation or permission from the Welsh Government – or its local health authorities – to disregard (if they are, of course) their current published advice on the need for adequate indoor ventilation^^ for the duration of the SGP on Saturday and Sunday, surely this advice should already be published (in writing) somewhere so it can be considered or assessed by SGP ticket holders?^^^
To be fair, if you look at the revamped but still barely ept official Speedway Grand Prix website, there is also ZERO information [finally released – 30 hours after this blog appeared – with less than 40 hours notice] on events beforehand outside the stadium – the fan zone (location, duration, schedule)** or inside the stadium (pre-meeting music act; opening ceremony start time; ‘special guest’ attendees etc) beyond news the gates open at 15.30 and the racing starts at 17.00. With three days to go before tapes up, the available information on the official SGP website is remarkably scant on the event landing page and also in its ‘news‘ section so grandiloquently worded by the official “Press Officer” of the FIM Speedway GP of Great Britain who is also the “FIM Speedway delegate for Discovery Sports Events” Paul Burbidge.
Even the happy talk from Bellamy on the telly of attending previous Cardiff SGP winners fails to shift this news dial. Such basic details along with coronavirus safety and mitigation news/advice are easily predictable information requirements. They would, ideally, be available from the FIM, Discovery or the “Cardiff organiser” Sidetrack Limited sufficiently well ahead of time for possible inclusion in the official programme and/or trailed in press releases to the (specialist speedway) media too.
Even without specific Cardiff SGP guidance, advice or information, every adult, staff member or competitor can still make their own risk calculus decision about attendance. Nonetheless, reassuring worried ageing speedway fans that the FIM and Discovery Sports Events (and their sub-contractor Sidetrack) have their health and mortality interests at heart during their SGP live events would dispel current uncertainties and is usually standard practice for any reasonably professional organisation. Keeping silent or hoping serious issues will go away by ignoring them is the pre-pandemic old era BSI Speedway Ltd and IMG SGP model and, it appears, now the series has changed hands and is under the leadership of Francois Ribeiro, Discovery Sports Events are only too happy to continue this high-handed approach as part of their innovative “new era” ways too.
^ While the specific revenue figure generated by Cardiff varied annually, it was a significant per cent of total revenues at BSI Speedway Ltd (& BSI/IMG). Ignoring it is a warning signal about his own competence to lead the Discovery Sports Events speedway franchise to future success, Francois Ribeiro’s decision to reduce the revenues accruing to the Warner Bros. Discovery organisation by sub-contracting part of them elsewhere – either with or without the due process of competitive tenders – must raise further questions about the implementation and success metrics of his strategic vision. Especially since, as Axios Media Trends reported only yesterday, “With over $50 billion of debt on its books, the leaders of the newly combined [Warner Bros. Discovery] company are focused more on cost discipline than bloated content libraries.”
^^ Though there is – sadly – no mention of airhorns pretty much every part of the latest Welsh Government health advice (revised 1 July 2022) applies to the FIM British Speedway Grand Prix at Cardiff staged inside the Principality Stadium if the roof is closed. Advice includes:
- wear a face covering in indoor crowded or enclosed places
- when indoors, increase ventilation and let fresh air in….
The most common ways coronavirus is spread are: through the air as an aerosol which can stay in the air for a long time;….
So places where we might come into close contact with a lot of other people will have a higher risk. Similarly, places where ventilation is poor will mean that stale air is not removed and fresh air is not introduced, giving coronavirus the opportunity to build up. Places where people are breathing more heavily can also provide opportunities for coronavirus to spread further. So the following places are particularly risky:
- Indoor places where ventilation is poor;
- Indoor places where people, particularly lots of people, are together for a long time.
- Any place, particularly indoors, where people have close contact with others.
- Any place, particularly indoors, where people are breathing heavily close to others or over extended periods, such as through strenuous exercise, loud singing, chanting, or shouting, coughing or sneezing.
^^^ When I bought my ticket, it turned out entry to the event could only be accessed via the Principality Stadium app. Subsequently, nowadays, it is only available via the notoriously glitchy See Tickets app. Ignoring that only using digital tickets for admission to the 2022 FIM British SGP via an app discriminates against (speedway going) seniors – aka the most loyal group of British speedway fans who are also likeliest to be digitally disenfranchised or technology under-equipped – though it was at a different time at least the Principality Stadium app published a “Code of Conduct” and also stated it visually:
This Code of Conduct clearly highlights the open roof policy but also requires adherence to the latest “government guidance” and advice – something the FIM, Discovery Sports Events, Sidetrack Limited and even the Principality Stadium themselves now happily ignore as if it doesn’t exist.
* maximising coronavirus build-up inside the Principality Stadium and then only providing hand sanitiser – when possible transmission is airborne rather by fomite – is pretty pointless and gives even pandemic theatre a bad name….
** the actual Fan Zone at City Hall Lawns opens at 10am and the schedule from 11.30am to 3.30pm (UK time) is as follows:
update pre-meeting: thankfully, this inept messaging also saw incredibly poor promotion by Discovery Sports Events and their nominated sub-contractor Sidetrack Ltd. Amongst other factors this reduced the crowd to around 19,000 and, thereby, created additional space to move about the grandstands. Effectively Discovery Sports Events ran a slightly-less-than-superspreader coronavirus SGP event in defiance of Welsh Government advice and the health interests of attending fans.