Witches to stay in Elite League

IPSWICH Evening Star Witches have confirmed that they will be staying in the top flight of British speedway in 2004.At this week's British Speedway Promoters' Association annual conference in Tenerife promoters John and Chris Louis have kept their faith in the Sky Sports Elite League.

IPSWICH Evening Star Witches have confirmed that they will be staying in the top flight of British speedway in 2004.

At this week's British Speedway Promoters' Association annual conference in Tenerife promoters John and Chris Louis have kept their faith in the Sky Sports Elite League.

This ends months of speculation for the Foxhall Stadium-based club, who finished 12 points adrift at the foot of the table last season and made a provisional application to join the Premier League in 2004 12 months ago.

Swindon and Arena-Essex have both agreed to move up from the Premier League to make it a ten-strong division.

An official press release is being issued tonight when the conference has ended, and a ten-strong top league is on a proviso that clubs agree to rule changes that are currently being discussed.

But the father and son Louis duo joined in a meeting with Elite League clubs yesterday, while the Premier League had their own discussions.

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After making financial losses for the last two years, and so far finding it impossible to attract a second main sponsor for next year, the Witches will be hard pressed to balance the books.

A winning side will go a long way to achieving this, and John and Chris Louis, along with team manager Mike Smillie, will now start assembling a side that will see a stronger top end that 2003 when skipper Scott Nicholls was often out on his own.

What increases yesterday's decision brings to admission prices at Foxhall Stadium remains to be seen, but the move is a positive step and the majority of fans will applaud their decision.

Nicholls, locally based and England's top rider with a genuine chance of competing for the world title next year, will stay with the club now, and look forward to a testimonial year.

Few, if any, of last year's riders are likely to join him with asset Leigh Lanham likely to stay on loan to Arena-Essex.

Polish star Tomasz Gollob will be in the frame to return, although another asset, five-time world champion Tony Rickardsson, is set to be loaned out to 2003 treble-winners Poole Pirates again.

One rule that is bound to be altered is the 'doubling up' procedure where riders can ride for clubs in both the Elite and Premier Leagues.

The points limit and future of the British League Cup, along with the format the Elite League will take, will be confirmed in the BSPA statement after the conference officially ends.

Chris van Straaten will head the same management committee in 2004.

Wolverhampton promoter van Straaten will spend one more season as chairman before standing down at the end of next year.

He is joined once again by Peter Toogood as vice-chairman alongside Coventry's Colin Pratt, Neil Machin of Sheffield and Eastbourne's Jon Cook.

Van Straaten said: "This does show that there is some stability within the sport and we are once again looking forward to working together next season."

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