CEO’s September Message – Hugh Chambers
The roots of all sports governing bodies lie in the fabric of rules and regulations; and of course, they emerged as people wanted to make sure that things were kept fair, and enjoyable. And in the case of motorsport – safe. Danger has always been an unwelcome ingredient of motorsport – albeit our ability to manage it has quite impressively kept up with our increasing inability to countenance its existence.
So, the subject is never far from the forefront of discussion, and all of us are well versed in planning and mitigating danger in all its forms for those competing in a vehicle. With that in mind, it has not been a great surprise that the community has dealt with the dangers and consequences of COVID-19 in such an effective and successful way. When the pandemic first struck, I was not alone in fearing that motorsport would not return at all in 2020. So, it is a massive thank you to everyone in the whole of our motorsport community that we have been able to get racing, rallying and competing in every other discipline this summer.
In fact, the level of events and entries is not too far behind this time last year, which is a wonderful endorsement of everyone’s passion and enthusiasm. It also shows how safe people feel to be back in their respective venues. We took a lot of time crafting the ‘Back to Racing’ guidelines, and that has a good deal to do with why the events have been able to restart; but it also demonstrates how brilliantly organisers, officials and marshals have risen to the challenge. However, we always said that it may be necessary to review aspects of the guidelines as circumstances change.
“The ‘rule of six’ could, in theory, stop sports events overnight, even though we operate in the open air with plenty of space.”
The spectre of a second wave of the pandemic has always been there, and now it is emerging in significant numbers. It is different to the first wave, and thankfully at the moment it is not proving to be as disastrous; but we are heading into winter and all that brings.
We are allowed to run motorsport events under special permission of the Government (via the Department of Culture, Media and Sport), based upon the premise that we are able to implement mitigations to the effects of what can only be termed a ‘mass gathering’ in most events. And now the goalposts have moved, and in the wrong way.
The ‘rule of six’ could, in theory, stop sports events overnight, even though we operate in the open air with plenty of space. The reality is that the sport does need people to come together in clusters, whether it is the paddock, event administration, marshalling, or in the pits. And some disciplines are more challenged than others, especially karting. We have listened carefully to the feedback over the summer, and one subject that kept coming to the fore was the concerns expressed around face coverings. From the restart on the 4th July, we adopted a somewhat less than prescriptive approach to the wearing of face coverings, with advisories in certain areas and circumstances.
However, it left a large number of our community feeling very nervous and vulnerable. We need to recognise that a significant proportion of our volunteer workforce is somewhat older and therefore quite rightly needs to observe greater care than the young. Perhaps the most worrying thing was that even in areas where we had become prescriptive (such as on a kart dummy grid), there were some who refused to comply and flaunted the need to cover their face.
“We need to make sure that our particular sport is doing everything it can to justify being allowed to run.”
So, the combination of the Government changes imposed on the 14th September, and the feedback from our community, led us to a new position that we have implemented to tie in with the new Government legislation. Our first priority has always been to keep you and everyone in our community safe, but also those we come into contact with externally, and ultimately the key workers that have managed the crisis so well. But beyond this we seek to protect our ability to compete. The Government has made it clear that they will do whatever needs to be done to control the infection rate, and that there are certain sectors, such as schools, that need to be preserved as long as possible.
Sport is recognised as having great social benefits, and generates billions for the economy, but it would be easy for us to be closed down in favour of other sectors. We need to make sure that our particular sport is doing everything it can to justify being allowed to run, and if that means going above and beyond what is technically allowed across the country then we will do so. None of the decisions have been taken lightly and all with the advice of experts, led by Dr Paul Trafford, who is our Chief Medical Officer and COVID-19 Medical Officer.
We have already had feedback and made some tweaks to the guidelines, but the broad message is that we all need to be wearing face coverings, where required, at motorsport events. It is frustrating, but better this than run the risk of passing on infection or for our sport to be closed down. Motorsport is the thing that brings us all together in a vibrant community of 65,000 people, with a shared passion. I know that together we can ensure that the sport can be run safely – it is in our DNA – and that we can lobby the authorities to permit us to carry on looking after everyone’s interests. We really need your support to make sure this is successful, and to demonstrate that to everyone watching.
Stay safe and secure, with best regards to you and your families.
Hugh Chambers CEO, Motorsport UK