Monday, 21 September 2015

Rally - The Big Debate

Phew, that caused quite a stooshie. The previous post was put up at 11pm on Sunday night. By 9am Monday morning it had received over 12,000 views!

It also generated much concern – and comment. A lot of the comment was well intentioned and well informed, but here’s a few more points for consideration and debate.

First thing, rallies are run for competitors, not for spectators. Drivers and co-drivers are the paying customers so they have to be attracted to contest events. Apart from the cost, one of the most regular complaints from drivers and co-drivers is about the lack of variety in forest roads being used. The trouble here is that the Forestry Commission determines which roads can be used and in which area, not the organisers. That then has an impact on where rallies are based and the route on the day. So if there as an ongoing ‘sameness’ to events year on year, then that is why. Organisers can only work with the stages available.

It’s very easy to sit back and say why not move an event from one town centre to another. Not so easy in practice. For a start, does the Council want the hassle and can it cope with the influx? Not every location is keen to cope with the disruption. In the same way, folks often wonder when driving past certain forests why they cannot be used. Simple, the FC tells us what is available.

There are however possible stages available in Argyll, but the reason they have dropped out of use was that too few competitors would make the effort to drive into Cowal or take the ferry. If a club can’t make its event pay, then the event doesn’t run.

Rallying also lost out on the Trossachs stages because of the National Park status and its use by other sporting and outdoor pursuits at weekends (Rally Scotland was a one-off).  It’s the same story with the forests around Aviemore. What the sport is faced with is an ongoing reduction of available forests and usable roads. So if there is a ‘sameness’ about events, then that is the principal reason.

And when one event does try to make change, like a two-day format, they get a lot of flack from folk who complain about the changes. Sometimes you just can’t win.

Another overlooked point here was the fact that Coltness CC was trying to take a sporting lead in Scotland by hosting a unique Q&A Rally Forum on the Saturday night about the future of the sport. It was hoped that the format would have had a beneficial effect on attendance where folk with the interests of the sport at heart could have turned up and asked questions. In fact, it would have been interesting to see just how many competitors actually turned up to that!

Look at it another way. Of the 6 forest rallies held so far this year, half of them have run with fewer than 80 entries. That’s perilously close to break-event point. In fact, some of them didn’t, but ran anyway.

If there are fewer competitors wishing to take part in multi-venue rallies then Entry Fees must rise.

Either that or the sport has to change. Less sophisticated cars (less expensive!), pump fuel only, control tyres and reduced costs?

It also needs stronger leadership from the top. The MSA must engage more strongly with the FC at their annual negotiations. If the FC wants to put the rates up, then the MSA must extract some form of commitment to provide more choice and better roads. And also, once a route has been agreed not go churning up the road in a late dash to extract timber.

And dare I say it, the Scottish Championship needs to take a lead here to help, not just the clubs and organisers, but to work with competitors to see what they want and to determine what is acceptable. Should it have been up to Coltness CC to organise this Forum on the future of the sport, or should someone else have taken the lead?

Tough times demand tough decisions.

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