THE abandonment of Eastbourne’s match at Belle Vue on Monday after one corner of speedway raises a couple of issues.
1. When a match is on TV, how much influence does Sky have on whether the meeting is on or off?
2. Speedway – as a defined sport in the UK – began more than 80 years ago. We know it rains in Britain. Why isn’t more done to protect tracks against the elements?
To my mind, there is pressure to get a meeting on when Sky are in town. Lead commentator Nigel Pearson tweeted after the abandonment in Manchester that there was no pressure from Sky to ensure the meeting went ahead. Of course, I accept his word. However, there are the unspoken pressures. Look in the car park at Arlington whenever Sky broadcast a meeting and you can see what an investment the TV company makes every time it goes to a speedway track. Look at the number of staff – not just those on screen – and the seemingly endless miles of cable laid to get those pictures from trackside to our television sets. It’s expensive and that must add to the pressure. In addition, the company which holds the media rights for the sport are always represented at the track, with the Speedway Control Bureau having a referee plus a meeting steward present. Pressure comes in different ways and clubs must feel that sort of unspoken pressure. Eagles captain Cameron Woodward apparently said on Monday night that he would long been on his way home had the match not been on Sky. We know the meeting went as far as the first corner when there was a crash. The referee ordered a re-run but it never took place: the meeting steward said that’s enough. Years ago, meetings tended to go ahead in really wet conditions. Riders donned boiler suits and splashed round in the mud. There are some fantastic black and white photographs around of riders absolutely covered.
I don’t think Sky would want that now – the “races” were processional with only a few nerveless (mad?) riders willing to give it a real go. And, rider safety must be paramount.
So, let’s turn to my second point. Covering tracks is not as easy as it sounds. There are the practical problems of getting the covering down, ensuring there are no places where water can leak in and you still have to get the track ready for racing.
And, of course, it can rain as the meeting begins – just as it did at Belle Vue on Monday.
I understand that tracks “sweat” under covers; which can make the surface slimey and tricky to race on.
There must be a solution but at the moment speedway seems as far away from finding one as they did when racing began near a pub in the Epping Forest in 1928.
The Lifestyle Eagles now have a break from action at Arlington until Saturday, May 5 when Coventry are the visitors.
Speedway in Sussex will now follow a largely fortnightly pattern across the summer as the Eagles dodge around grand prix and other FIM fixtures on a Saturday night.
Last Saturday, the Eagles beat Peterborough but could not do enough to secure the bonus point which went to the visitors for losing by fewer than seven points.
Eastbourne led by 14 points at one stage but a double-points tactical ride from Kenneth Bjerre, with wonderkid Michael Jepsen Jensen, in tow gave Peterborough an 8-1 heat win. A 5-1 in the next race set up a tense finish but the Eagles held on at the death to win.