Sunday 12 February 2023

Rally - The Meeting

This is a personal account of a meeting held last Thursday (9th Feb) by the Scottish Association of Motor Sports Clubs and four of motor sport’s governors from Motorsport UK.

Having met first with SportScotland in the afternoon Hugh Chambers, Motorsport UK Chief Executive, Sue Sanders, Director of Learning and Development, Claire Kirkpatrick, Head of Club and Community Development and John Ryan, Sport and Safety Director had an evening meeting with the SAMSC plus a few championship co-ordinators and 16 club reps representing Scotland’s 50 odd car clubs. A total of some 32 folk. In other words some clubs hadn’t bothered to send anyone.

Of course, Edinburgh is pretty far away from some parts of Scotland but it is a lot closer than Bicester so it was disappointing to see that more clubs had not made the effort.

Acting SAMSC Chair Bruce Lyle made the introductions following which Hugh Chambers made a 25 minute presentation followed by John Ryan (10 mins), Claire Kirkpatrick (8 mins) and Sue Sanders (12 mins). Done and dusted within an hour leaving the rest of the evening for a Q&A session with the floor. Matters were brought to a close just after 10pm.

Not using Covid as an excuse, Hugh Chambers talked about the hopes and ambitions that he and David Richards (Motorsport UK Chair) had expressed when both assumed their positions just over four years ago. Rather than make excuses about what had not been done during the lockdown, he concentrated on what had been achieved, what the aims were for the future and what progress was being made.

Without going into too much detail the biggest problems facing the sport are the ageing demographic of those involved, the social pressure from those outside the sport, climate change and of course, the ever rising costs of competition, both organising and participating.

This latter point energised much of the Q&A session, but it’s only right to point out that safety drives many of the decisions. The reason for that is quite simple. For any insurance company to assume the risks of covering a motor sport competition they have to be assured that those organising are competent, hence the need for training, qualifications and licenced, whilst those competing, as well as spectating, are kept safe from harm. 

Whether we like it or not that is what drives much of the FIA and Motorsport UK thinking and decision making. Having said that, Motorsport UK has been fighting back against some of the FIA directives. Spurred on by criticism from clubs and competitors, the UK governing body has been arguing against some of the FIA decisions, for example, with regard to the ‘lifeing’ of seats and seat belts and other equipment.

To ignore the insurers calls into question the very future of the sport. If you want the perfect example, it has just been announced this month that all motorcycle road racing, short circuit racing and trials in Northern Ireland have been cancelled for 2023 as the organising clubs have deemed it impossible to run events because of soaring insurance charges. That is what we are up against in motor sport.

Of equal concern is the ageing demographic of those involved. Based on last year’s Club and Competitor surveys, over 50% of those involved in British motor sport are over 50 years of age. There is another connected issue, diversity. Before funds and support can be released to sporting governing bodies, SportScotland (and other such bodies) have to be assured that there are plans in place not just to encourage female participation but ALL other sections of the community. The word ‘inclusion’ is now a simple fact of sporting life.

In fact, much of the work being undertaken by our governing body has to do with sporting and government directions, guidance and advice, and of course social pressure. This might appear to us on the outside as having little to do with the actual running of motor sport but that is no longer the case, it’s all about social inclusion, equality and accessibility.

And whilst the subjects of motor racing and speed events were mentioned in passing, much of the discussion focussed on rallying which is facing particular threats. Not just from environmentalists seeking to ban us from the forests but from the wider public who don’t want closed road rallying either.

It was also encouraging to note that the UK Rally Strategy Group appointed by Motorsport UK is working on long term plan for rallying. With the current Forestry & Land Agreement running out in 2030, what will happen beyond that?

The big issue here is the public perception of a minority of people who enjoy burning fossil fuels in their pursuit of sporting pleasure. Often these critics are the very same people who drive large 4x4s an estate cars with bike racks to forest trails for their own pleasure and domestic vehicles to and from gyms, sports grounds and stadiums loaded with the sporting kit of their choice. The irony here is overlooked.

The subjects of autotests and Street Car got a good airing too as a means of introducing people to the sport whilst Motorsport UK defended their support and promotion of appreciation of eSports as a means of widening the general appeal.

The other big topic of conversation was communication, with Motorsport UK themselves admitting they need to do better, but so do the car clubs, and dare I say it, the SAMSC. What the evening proved was that such face to face meetings are indeed worthwhile. Quite a few individuals got ‘wired in’ to the guests who left promising to address particular points. I think most of those individuals felt assured that they would indeed be investigated, certainly more assured than if they simply made a phone call to a faceless person at the other end of the line or sent them an email.

It's been at least six years since Motorsport UK ventured north to address the natives, let’s hope it doesn’t take as long before the next visit.

Note: This is just a brief account of Thursday’s discussions, but if you want a more detailed report, I’d need to be bribed!

Pic Shows, Left to Right: 

John Ryan, Bruce Lyle, Claire Kirkpatrick, Sue Sanders, Sandy Denham (Motor Sports Council), Hugh Chamnbers and Keith Butler (SAMSC Secy.)

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