I was chatting to a couple of old-timers (they won't be reading this, they "don't do computers!") the other day, one an ex-rally driver and the other an ex-navigator. On a whim they decided to pop down to the Border Counties the other weekend just because it was running through the Tweed Valley and they knew the stages.
Imagine their surprise when they turned up at Elibank and were charged a tenner to park their car before going to watch. Then their shock at being told they couldn't walk up the roads to their favoured vantage point, and even if they did they wouldn't be able to walk back out while the rally was still running.
It got worse. Once directed to the specified spectator location, they were then informed by a Marshal to move further back because they might be struck by flying stones. Adding insult to injury, the Safety Delegate entourage stopped and told them to move further back before the stage could commence.
They were completely unaware of all these new rules and limitations. They don't buy the weekly paper any more, there are no dedicated rally magazines, there is virtually nothing in the sports sections of the daily press and there is no coverage on radio or TV, so how do folk find out what our sport is doing?
If the sport can't reach those who used to participate what chance does it have of trying to reach newcomers? We simply can't rely on 'social media'.
Not only do we need to attract and inform newcomers to the sport, we need to advise and educate other forest users like dog walkers, horse riders, mountain bikers, twitchers and ramblers. They have no interest in looking at motor sports websites so why should they need to know anything about rallying, and if they did want to find out any specifics, where would they start? Which web presence would provide them with accurate information?
If folk won't help themselves then it's up to the sport to do it for them, and on that basis the Forestry Commission and the MSA need to work much more closely with event organisers to spread the word ahead of each event. Perhaps a free leaflet could be printed and placed in FC offices and shops for general public distribution and also in other retail outlets in the local area ahead of events.
More signs on all forest approaches, entrances and car parks are needed, not just to tell folk about The Country Code and keeping the countryside tidy, but that they need to be aware of and look out for other signs motorised wild life - from forestry vans and chainsaw contractors to logging trucks and rally cars. These signs also need to be colourful and attractive so that folk stop and look. Also, most forestry conservancies and national parks produce their own quarterly news-sheet so a regular spot about rallying in here would help spread the word.
Rallying is like no other sport. You can't just turn up at a stadium, get a ticket and go and sit in your seat, so folk need to be enlightened.
Just another job for hard pressed rally organisers, but a little bit of outside help wouldn't go amiss, eh?