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New rules will help British Speedway, but more ‘SHOW’ is still what we need

FROM THE OFF: Riders head from the tapes. But there have been far too many re-starts in recent seasons. This is going to be looked into.

FROM THE OFF: Riders head from the tapes. But there have been far too many re-starts in recent seasons. This is going to be looked into.

© Copyright Stephen Waller

Is speedway going in the right direction? MIKE BACON takes a look at the sport after the recent promoters’ AGM

INTERACTION: Ipswich Witches riders on a lap of honour walking the track. Speedway needs to get fans more involved. INTERACTION: Ipswich Witches riders on a lap of honour walking the track. Speedway needs to get fans more involved.

It’s a bit of a giggle among speedway fans – the British Promoters Associations’ Annual General Meeting.

Many fans see it as an excuse for the sport’s bosses to get away at the end of a long summer of speedway, exchange the craic, down a few drinks, dot a few i’s and cross a few t’s. Pat each other on the back for a job... Well, sort of pretty well done.

However, more than ever, as the promoters headed off to sunny Tenerife last week for their annual conference, speedway faced many issues.

The 2017 season saw an overload of riders doubling up for Championship and Premiership clubs – if you didn’t have two clubs in England, you were almost in the minority.

Not that it’s a problem, but when a rider’s Championship and Premiership teams are both racing on the same night, the neutral would understandably ask, which team does Mr X race for tonight?

Good question, often long answer.

EASY RIDER: Tomasz Gollob, one of a rare breed of Polish world individual speedway champions. Gollob rode for Ipswich in the late '90s/early 2000s EASY RIDER: Tomasz Gollob, one of a rare breed of Polish world individual speedway champions. Gollob rode for Ipswich in the late '90s/early 2000s

Guest riders, an unfortunate necessity of the sport, became more prevalent as the 2017 season wore on.

It came to a head in the Championship when Scott Nicholls rode for Peterborough in their home leg and then for Ipswich in their home leg of the Championship KO Cup final at the end of the season.

Not that you can blame Scottie, or any rider, those were the rules... And that had been brewing.

Riders just want to ride and earn money. There are no multi-million-pound contracts in speedway and the vast majority of riders will never make enough to put their feet up in their 40s and retire for good.

It’s a tough sport, a brave sport and often a thrilling sport.

But it’s also a sport that ties itself in knots... Something needed to change at this AGM.

BANG CRASH: Crashes are part and parcel of speedway, sadly. But it does give the sport an exciting edge for some. BANG CRASH: Crashes are part and parcel of speedway, sadly. But it does give the sport an exciting edge for some.

So, the fact the top league in England, the Premiership, will now ride on just Mondays and Wednesdays in 2018, is a positive step forward.

For far too long England has been cited as ‘too busy’ by riders who haven’t wanted the hassle of flying in and out of the country from Poland, Denmark and Sweden on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays – coupled with the fact English speedway isn’t the most lucrative when it comes to pounds for points.

The underlaying fact that most, if not all ex-world champions in speedway, and the current one, Jason Doyle, cut their teeth in English speedway, when they started (and in Doyle’s case, still ride today), doesn’t seem to reminisce with many of today’s young stars.

Indeed, while riders and fans go on about how great (or should I say, lucrative) the sport is in Poland for example, it’s ironic that few Polish stars ride in England these days.

It may also explain why Poland have only produced one individual world champion in 44 years (Tomasz Gollob in 2010). Even ‘unfashionable’ English speedway have produced four (Gary Havelock, Mark Loram and Tai Woffinden, twice), in the past 26 seasons.

The Aussies, big supporters of the sport in this country, three world champions in nine years. The stats say that invariably, if you want to be world champion, you have to have ridden in England.

DOUBLE CHAMPION: Great Britain's Tai Woffinden. DOUBLE CHAMPION: Great Britain's Tai Woffinden.

Anyhow, back to Tenerife and the BSPA AGM.

The move to Monday and Wednesday race nights for Premiership clubs in England is significant, although the fact each team will only be allowed one rider with an average over eight points will be hard to explain to fans - surely the idea is to encourage more world stars back to British speedway and unless their averages will all be under eight points, which one would doubt, is that going to happen?

Time will tell of course.

The abolishment of the tactical ride rule in 2018, where a rider gets double points in a heat to help get his team back in a meeting, can’t come quick enough for fans of the shale sport.

When the tactical ride rule was introduced many years ago, it was novel, but soon many could see it was an embarrassment. A poor way of making a meeting closer than it should be. Fans have been going on about it for years. It’s taken time to convince promoters... But we are there now!

Starting procedures, closer and more regionalised Cup groups will all help with the general feel of the sport being national but retaining those important ‘local derbies’.

WORLD CHAMPION: Jason Doyle, rides regularly in England and has gained his rewards of riding all over the world. WORLD CHAMPION: Jason Doyle, rides regularly in England and has gained his rewards of riding all over the world.

The play-offs (top four) remain, while promotion and relegation between the two leagues has been scrapped, hopefully for good.

Still, however speedway needs to be more of a show.

Promoters need to get out of the pits and wander on the terraces. Speak to fans.

Race night needs to see riders meeting fans, more pomp and show, more actual races rather than the ‘main event’, laps of honour, mascots, thumping music, good PA systems, the list is endless.

It just needs a little thought. And dare I say a little injection of cash.

It’s been a pretty positive move by British Speedway Promoters at this AGM.

But race night is far more than just league structures, false starts and tactical rides.

FANS WANT SHOW!

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