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Elephant...What Elephant?
By Ken Nicholson

"The elephant in the room" is something obvious overlooked or a topic not discussed because it is taboo. Nobody knows the origin of the term. When Jimmy Durante was caught stealing an elephant in Billy Rose's Jumbo, he pretended he had not seen it and said, "What elephant?" Much earlier, Mark Twain also wrote about The Stolen White Elephant, in which it turned out the elephant had been there all along. I wonder if there was an elephant at the BSPA Conference.

Speedway has two big problems in my eyes. It is now unaffordable to the masses, and it has become too boring because of long drawn out meetings in which riders search for the right set-up. Add to that, the huge number of rain-offs, thanks to modern-day bikes needing near perfect conditions, and you can see why the turnstiles have stopped clicking. So following the most exciting BSPA conference for umpteen years, you might be forgiven for thinking the bull had been taken by the horns (or the elephant by the tusks). Alas, what we seem to have ended up with is a tinkering of the leagues, another shot at promotion/relegation, and yet another system for calculating averages.

Why promotion/relegation is back again is beyond me. In the past, it has been a poisoned chalice. Promotion means higher wage bills without higher numbers of spectators. It works in football because there are hordes of travelling fans from the big clubs and the international superstars are restricted to the higher leagues. But in speedway? Even the best-supported clubs provide only a couple of hundred away supporters at most and the majority of riders ride in both the top two leagues anyway.

The BSPA have come up with some whacky ideas in the past. My favourite is when they removed the helmet colours and introduced team suits, so nobody knew who was who (a good way to slip in a ringer!). However, introducing a system where a rider can have an average more than he can score (i.e. twelve) must come a close second. We see changes to points limits and the way averages are calculated pretty much every season. I wonder why. I suppose it makes things more interesting for the team managers and promoters, but that is about it. I have yet to see any surge in attendances when the points limits have been changed one way or another. The same is true for tweaking the rules regarding tactical rides.

Speedway is, and always has been, about entertainment. The axiom that "happiness is 40-38" is as true as it ever was (or at least it's now 46-44!). The same is not the case in other sports, where usually it is a matter of the bigger the score the better. Speedway tends not to have the jealous rivalry seen in football, so there is no delight in watching the opponents struggle - not least, because the opposing riders might be guests for your own team in the next match.

Another problem facing speedway is the regularity of meetings. "Make it a date, Friday at eight (except GP weekends, SWC week and when the team is riding away from home, depending on rider availability)" does not have the catchiness of the original slogan. Speedway supporters are creatures of habit. Break that habit and you pay the price. Also, unless meetings are openly advertised, only existing fans are ever going to know about them if they are not held as regular as clockwork.

So were the real problems of speedway, the elephant in the room, discussed at the BSPA conference? If they were, I think we might have ended up with Mark Twain's elephant - the white one!


This article was first published on 30th December 2016

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  • Jock Davidson:

    "Agree 100% I think it would be a good idea to have breath test at all BSPA meetings!!"  


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