How many of us are looking at flights to Kenya in July right now? I’d guess not many of us, and certainly not me.
As much as I’d like to be optimistic and say I’m looking forward to a return to my favourite continent, I just can’t be. If I do for one second allow myself to be an optimist I might just have a quick look on Airbnb for accommodation in Jyväskylä in early August. Because there is practically no way we’ll be rallying again before that anywhere.
And no, I’m not being a negative harbinger of doom, I’m being a realist.
This year’s World Rally Championship, along with many other sporting championships across the globe, is in trouble. Real trouble.
You know it’s exactly what makes our sport so unique, so captivating and so enthralling that makes it particularly vulnerable in these difficult times, and perhaps more pertinently, in what are going to be very nervous and very uncertain times later in the year .
We have a structure that means it’s impossible to travel light. It’s not like soccer, or rugby, or baseball. They can basically gather a group of twenty folk together, close a stadium and still put a game on. Under those circumstances you can easily see a situation where championships are completed and commitments fulfilled.
Contrast that with the World Rally Championship. It’s very possible that we might well be looking to cram as many as eight events into the last four months of the year. That in itself is a difficult to imagine proposition but when you consider the fact that three of those events could be long hauls, it starts to look like an impossible situation. Actually, I’d argue it is an impossible situation.
So what do we do? Just write the season off? If we are being pragmatic and thorough then that has to be considered. But I think there are other potential solutions, all of which should be carefully and expediently considered.
Rallies absolutely must be given the option to run shorter events and my understanding is that that is under consideration. If we are seriously looking to reschedule events and complete at least the European rounds on the calendar then there is a very high likelihood that we’ll have to somehow work out how to run back to back events. I’d suggest running rallies on a four day timescale. Start recce on Thursday, complete rally by Sunday. Sweden this year showed that even an event with a seriously shorter route can be fantastically exciting.
With so much uncertainty surrounding all public events going forward, if we are to start looking to a resumption strategy, it absolutely has to be one that reduces risk to a minimum. And here’s possibly one of the more controversial recommendations I’d make. All rallies until the end of the year should be closed events. What does that mean? Well basically I’d ban spectators. Lockdowns will end, social distancing measures will be eased and public events will resume. But there will inevitably be continuing restrictions and we have to do all we can to reduce the risk of further events being cancelled.
These are dramatic and radical solutions but we live in dramatic and radical times.
I feel desperately sorry in particular for the organisers of the Safari Rally and Rally Finland. Both organisations are now at the point where considerable sums of money are being outlaid to build infrastructure, secure services and market their events. Those costs only escalate each week we get closer to the ceremonial starts. It’s not difficult to imagine a situation where a local promoter finds itself in an almost catastrophic situation when a rally is binned close to the start date.
This is absolutely what we must protect against.
The downside clearly of running spectator free events is that there is potentially a big loss of revenue for a number of events. And if we are about protecting and maintains a solid core, to build strength for the future of the Championship then it is only right that this burden be shared or in other ways lessened. That is one perhaps for the FIA to consider.
What is absolutely paramount is that we do all we can to ensure that the championship has a strong and resilient core to see it into 2021 and beyond. And that could well mean that a few difficult decisions have to be made regarding the seeing out, or not as the case may be, of the current season.