Motorcycle Racing State of the Nation
On Friday evening MCNews.com.au editor Trevor Hedge had a long discussion with Motorcycling Australia CEO Peter Doyle.
We thank PD for his candour, time and cooperation in helping us to bring you this detailed explanation of the challenges facing motorcycle sport in this country that stem from the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interview with Motorcycling Australia CEO Peter Doyle
Busy time at HQ this week with pretty much everything getting postponed/cancelled… I guess at this point in time you can’t even really make any solid contingency plans, and can instead only canvas various optional scenarios from this point forward… So far you have stated that the next three rounds of ASBK have all been postponed, Wakefield Park (NSW), The Bend (SA) and Barbagallo (WA). Depending on how the situation pans out with the spread of the virus, it looks as though the scheduled round five at Morgan Park (QLD) could end up becoming round two…?
“It could be, that is what we are looking at right now, it is probable at this stage that the Morgan Park round will become round two.
“I’ve had a discussion in the last 48 hours with CAMS and with V8 Supercars, one of the issues motorcycle sport faces is the differing conditions and requirements around our disciplines. If we take road racing, the problem we have is that most of the tracks are booked up already with clients for the second half of the year, so we have got to try and slot dates in when customers already have bookings.
“The tracks are in the same position, they are having people saying we want more dates, to be selfish perhaps we do have to hope that some of those events are cancelled, and maybe we can slot in. But obviously Supercars are trying to do the same thing, state car championships and state motorcycle championships also, so for us road racing is going to have an availability problem at a lot of tracks.
“And as you know, ASBK, and V8 Supercars for example, as the elite levels of the respective sports, we can’t race on every track out there, we really couldn’t have ASBK at Broadford for example. Sometimes we are limited in our track selection, the reality is that once we know when we might be able to get back on track, then we have to work with all the racetracks to try and put a calendar together for the rest of the year. The plan is to try and run as many as we can.”
What is the worst case scenario for Australian Superbike in 2020? There have long been stirrings around suggestions that ASBK move to a summer series for decades, that up until now have always ended up being shelved in favour of the status quo. I guess 2020 could end up being a forced test case as to how a summer series would run? Or is that not a realistic option?
“For us, yes it is a realistic option, we could look at that. The biggest issue there, at the professional level, is contracts with riders. And how that sits with riders that may or may not have contracts going into the following year, manufacturers changing direction, so those would be the biggest things to overcome. But for the majority of competitors, it is absolutely an option that we have to consider, and I think many sports are looking at the same scenario.”
The Australian Motocross Nationals were due to get underway early next month, and then be run and won before the end of August, over six events, three of which were to be double-headers, making for a nine round series. Do you have much input as to how the MX Nationals might pan out in reflection of the current crisis, or are those plans pretty much down to the discretion of promoter Kevin Williams?
“We will work with Kevin, we have been talking to him every day. At the moment he is trying to have round one, where round four is now, trying to have that as round one. That will obviously be looked at again over the coming weeks depending on where this virus goes. He has got a draft calendar that would see six events take place between June and September, but we are not putting it out there right now, as issues are examined to confirm track availability etc. That should be another week away before we can confirm that his V2 calendar might work, with still trying to get MX Nationals finished by September to allow for Supercross to take place.”
Original 2020 Australian MX National Championship Calendar
Round 1 & 2 Horsham, Victoria April 4/5(postponed)
- Round 3 Newry, Victoria May 3
- Round 4 Gympie, Qld May 24 (could be new round one)
- Round 5 Conondale, QLD June 28
- Round 6 & 7 Maitland, NSW July 25/26
- Round 8 & 9 Coolum, QLD August 22/23
- Rescheduled Horsham Round TBA
Enduro / AORC
Of the major series I would imagine the off-road enduro AORC events would perhaps be the easiest to modify to cater for the separation of people. With measures such as a series of rider briefings or the like to make for smaller groups. But I imagine the tyranny of distance for competitors to try and make it to those venues while minimising exposure risks are also things that need to be taken into account. We have three rounds of the series already run, the next round of the series in Nowra has already been postponed, do you know of any further developments in regards to the following rounds of the AORC?
“They have got a bit of a break after that one that has been postponed, so that is a work in progress. The biggest issue for AORC, and also every other discipline for that matter, and also again for some other forms of sport, is ensuring that adequate medical support will be available.
“And that was one of the issues with us having to postpone the Wakefield Park ASBK, when you have a two or three day event, and you have got to have medical resources there, it becomes a problem if government second all those medical staff, which they essentially have, and whether you can take that out of the community. If we can’t get a guarantee that medical providers will be available to sit at an event for two to three days, due to the coronavirus, then a lot more events are going to be in trouble.”
International Events / ISDE
M.A. have already put out a brief statement in regards to the potential problems with the international team events. The biggest of which for us is generally the ISDE, and that historic enduro event is this year scheduled to be held in what is now the hardest hit area of the globe, Italy. Do you think it likely that the 2020 ISDE might be cancelled altogether, or perhaps moved to a different location, have you heard anything on those fronts?
“We have been in contact constantly with the FIM, and they are in the same situation as us, as you can see they have been madly sending out postponement and cancellation notices on numerous events, we expect a formal response some time in the next week. My current thoughts on the current feedback I am getting, is that it definitely won’t take place on the current date and location as listed, if at all.
“For sure, everybody is looking for a postponement, but one of the issues that people are facing is calendars. If you look at Australia for example, if we got lucky, and the second half of this year we are open to running these events again, everyone is going to be trying to host their events, that were scheduled to run over ten months, and they are going to try and cram it into five or six months, or potentially even shorter time-frames. It is going to be an enormous strain on resources, officials, volunteers, there are just endless massive repercussions coming out of this.”
What immediate impact is this going to have on the financial situation of Motorcycling Australia? Are you considering standing down some staff during this period or enforcing periods of paid or unpaid leave? How is this affecting naming rights sponsorship agreements with various companies for the respective championships and classes? Are there any potentially really troublesome flow on effects from the shutdown that I have not already canvassed, but that people should be made aware of?
“It is going to have a major impact on every sporting organisation in the country, with the possible exception of perhaps something like cricket which might be one of the least affected as it is already a summer sport. Some of the summer sports will probably get away with, let’s say a reduced impact, but talking to CAMS and some of the other sporting organisations we converse with, I think you have seen the public response on the NFL, the AFL…. I watched ten minutes of it last night, and all I can say is it is just not football. You don’t realise how much watching a game of football relies on the crowd to make it exciting, it was plain boring. They are running out onto the MCG, a 100,000 person stadium, and there is a few people scattered around the boundary lines, the players playing but there is no noise, I think they had some music in the background to try and make some noise, but on television it just wasn’t even a spectacle. Obviously the AFL clubs are in a much better position than most sports, but they rely heavily on membership and gate takings.
“For us, let’s take speedway, they in are a similar position. Speedway events in Australia, you have only 18-odd riders in reality, but you have a limited amount of riders, and they don’t pay entry fees in speedway, and the promoters rely on gate takings to fund prize money and to run the event. Well, you can’t do it on 500 spectators, which in reality would actually only be 400 once you took into account the competitors, pit crew and officials, so speedway is absolutely spectator reliant.
“Then you have other disciplines like enduro for example, which doesn’t rely on any spectators, it is back gate, competitors and sponsors pay, and they can’t run because they can’t get medical crews, so there are so many reasons across the different disciplines that prevent them from running events.
“So, the financial impact, look it depends on how long it goes… But there is going to be a huge financial impact on all the sports, including motorcycle racing, we are now locked into waiting on what is the next step from the government, do the restrictions get tighter, do they get tougher, and how long does it go for.
“But I think if it goes any longer than July-August, then I think you are going to see huge, huge issues across all sports. And we are only talking sport here, we are not even talking about business. Without income the sporting administration bodies can’t run.
“We had a phone hook-up today with the Department of Sport and Recreation, about some motorsports programs that the Victorian government are putting out there, which has been on the table for two years, but we had a discussion with them and of course a lot of the discussion concerned the issue of COVID-19, Eugene Arocca from CAMS was on the call too, a few of the sporting entities were on there, the impact is just massive. CAMS are already making cutbacks, we have already commenced, what I will call it level one restrictions, no staff travel, excess holidays to be taken, that has already started. We could only be a matter of weeks away from level two conditions being put in place, and look everything is on the table…”
While obviously the professional riders that rely on results based bonuses are looking very likely to suffer some financial pain this year, the amateur riders that take out M.A. race licences, but are not able to compete are probably also a little perturbed. Have you considered perhaps an extension of their licence expiry dates to take that into account?
“It has been canvassed, and we have got meetings set-up, as the federated structure we have, we have meeting with managers, meeting with states and the M.A. board are ongoing, I think we have three scheduled next week, and again all those items are on the table. The key here is knowing when… If you jump the gun and put something out now and give everyone a 30-day extension on the licence, and then we find out we have no racing for six-months we have to go through all that process again.”
You’ve got to ask everyone to just be a little bit patient, and everybody is in difficult times, in both business and in sport, and until we get clear direction out of our governments it is very hard to do anything. At the moment the 500 person restriction is in until almost the end of April, depending on who you talk to, people are saying we should be okay by May, and then you talk to others that say we are looking at more like six months…
“We are going to do everything we can to run as many, if not all of our events, in all the disciplines, if we are allowed to do it.
“It is just going to create a very crowded calendar getting towards the end of the year.
“The one fortunate part right now is that people are being a bit creative, and also following guidelines, you know club level events where have 50-100 riders turn up and they only bring one person or two, putting in some recommendations on sanitation, having electronic sign-on, people self-scrutineering, riders briefing done over P.A. systems, so people are getting creative and using the information we have been putting out to the states, and a lot of those club level activities are still taking place.
“We don’t know the knock-on effect throughout the motorcycle industry as a whole as yet. What are the bigger teams in the paddock in all disciplines, what are they doing their staff, how long can they hang on to those staff etc.”
Thanks very much for your time Pete and good luck with fighting the good fight in getting motorcycle sport back on track.