26 Jan: View from the Top

Update from the Scottish Association of Motor Sports Clubs …

In normal times, early 2021 would have seen Motorsport UK holding the biennial round of seminars for Licenced Officials. But these are not possible in lockdown so instead, there is a week of online seminars. Specialist role specific sessions are scheduled for each weekday evening covering Stewards, Clerks of Course, Scrutineers, Timekeepers and Rescue/Recovery Licence holders but these were complimented by a 3 hour generic seminar at the weekend for all officials. Four sessions were held, morning and afternoon on both Saturday and Sunday and across these, almost 900 people joined. Attendees heard from Motorsport UK Chief Executive, Hugh Chambers, who covered a range of topics including the Motorsport UK Strategy, the impact of Brexit on our sport, the move to Bicester, motorsport sustainability and Rally GB.

A major topic was Covid19 and this was covered in detail by John Ryan, Technical Sporting Director, and others. In particular, Dr Paul Trafford, Chair of Medical Committee, shared his thoughts. The mood across all of the attendees was one of frustration that the sport we love is on hold but at the same time, understanding the importance of getting a degree of control over the virus spread and, in the meantime, protecting the NHS from being overwhelmed. We know that the pandemic has affected different parts of the UK in different ways. On the very morning of the first seminar, Guernsey, where motorsport was allowed and an event was about to start, announced an immediate lockdown. Nicky Moffitt, Chair of Rallies Committee and Neil Fuller, Chair of Clerk’s & Steward’s Advisory Group spoke about Northern Ireland and Wales respectively while I gave a view from Scotland.

Motorsport UK continues to keep fully engaged with all the relevant Governments, including the one in Edinburgh, and SAMSC continues to be involved in that dialogue. For my part, I will continue to keep you as up to date as I can about what to expect but I don’t have much to add at this stage to what I said in my New Year update to you recently other than to share my own thoughts. Getting fully back up and running will require us to address at least six separate issues. Five of these apply to all motorsport disciplines while one impacts mainly on rallies. I will come back to car sharing at the end.

My working assumption is that the system of geographic tier or Covid level restrictions, currently based on Local Authority boundaries, will remain in place for the foreseeable future. This means that any general travel restrictions in place will apply to our sport. Specifically, travel in to or out of level 3 or level 4 Local Authority areas for sport events will not be allowed. My view is that sport participation is highly unlikely to be included in the list of essential travel reasons. Remember that these are currently legal restrictions not just guidelines.

I also expect the requirement for people to keep 2m distant to remain for some time. I know how much this has an impact on smaller venues, especially the paddock areas at places like Doune, Forestburn and Kames. Even where there is plenty of space, the current Scottish Government restriction places a limit of 200 participants. This means that even a large rally venue like Leuchars could only have 50 entries if we assume two service crew and two competitors per entry.

The next issue relates to spectators. Even if and when they are allowed to return, I expect there to be limits and restrictions. This presents a variety of issues for events depending on the venue. Fully closed events, like single venue rallies on a military base, are perhaps the easiest. Other venues, like Knockhill, are able to manage spectator access. But multi venue rally events, both forest and closed road, are likely to have to prepare a plan to satisfy the authorities that Covid safe protocols can be applied.

This brings me to my next point. I know that last year, some clubs cancelled events that were allowed under the restrictions because of a wider concern about public perception. This is especially the case at a venue which is visible to passing public. There is a widely shared view that our sport will not look good if it is seen to be going ahead when other social activity is not allowed. We may not all share this view but we must be conscious of it.

Finally, I promised to return to car sharing.  To repeat what I said in my New Year message a couple of weeks ago, in early December, the Scottish Association and Motorsport UK were actively engaged with SportScotland on this matter and were making good progress constructing a case to present to the relevant Government decision makers. While nothing was guaranteed, I had a degree of confidence that we might get the go ahead for rallies from perhaps March this year. But we must all accept how things have changed. With the escalating cases and additional restrictions announced just before Xmas, we decided the time was not right to press this case. We are now working towards starting up again and hopefully we can make some progress on this point but I can’t at this time have any confidence of seeing a rally car in action in Scotland at least until April and probably beyond that.

Pete Weall

Chair, Scottish Association of Motor Sports Clubs

25th January 2021