Editorial – Let’s not pretend motosport isn’t dangerous

It’s been difficult to escape the news about the deaths on the Jim Clark Rally this past weekend. But the reactions of some leave a lot to be desired.

Neil Simpson - 2014 Jim Clark Rally - via headlineauto.co.uk

It’s rare that national level rallying makes headlines with the mainstream media. For it to get a mention on local news is often an achievement in itself. More often the only time motorsport gets any coverage is when something goes wrong, like it did this weekend. The deaths of three spectators is an awful tragedy, and the media reaction has predictably been huge and overbearing.

However, what got to me more was a comment on Twitter, which went along the lines that people should think carefully about making tweets of condolence in relation to the Jim Clark Rally, as it brought negative attention to motorsport. The sentiment seemed that we should essentially gloss over and ignore what had happened, with the idea that if we’re lucky everyone will ignore it and move on quickly. Such a view is at best incredibly naive, and at worst callous and insensitive.

Anyone attending a motorsport event, be it rallying, touring cars, motorbikes, whatever, will usually be met with a sign stating “MOTORSPORT IS DANGEROUS” somewhere. It’s an inescapable reality, and one that cannot be ignored. The simple fact is that motorsport always has been dangerous and, despite the best efforts of organisers, always will be slightly dangerous. As a concept it is inherently risky; moving objects travelling at speed, in close proximity to inanimate objects, is obviously always going to involve some degree of danger. That, in part, is what makes it exciting and what makes people want to go and watch it.

We cannot, as motorsport fans and enthusiasts, simply bury our head in the sands and hope the wider public don’t notice. This incident has been all over the front of the BBC News website since it first happened; a few heartfelt tweets from concerned people is hardly going to bring more attention than there already is.

If anything it shows that most members of the motorsport community care about what has happened. The sport we love is often the victim of criticism and challenges. Acting like it hasn’t happened and hoping it goes away is not being mature or responsible. Acknowledging the tragedy, offering condolences to those affected, and wanting to find out how it can be prevented is being sensible and adult about it.

Why might some want to deflect attention away from this weekend’s accident? Well, negative PR might drive away sponsors, entrants and spectators to the detriment of the event. In addition, it might make Local Authorities less inclined to agree to events being staged in future. The Jim Clark Rally is rare in being run on closed public  roads in the mainland UK, rather than privately owned land or forestry tracks. This requires the consent of authorities that could well be taken away in light of this tragedy.

But such risks exists regardless as to whether it gets mentioned on social media or not. Investigations and enquiries would still take place, and the possible outcomes still the same. It may be that all the findings point to this being freak occurrences that no amount of planning or assessment could have avoided. On the flip side there may have been serious failings that can be addressed to hopefully prevent the same happening again.

It’s worth considering that the fatal crash on the 1986 Rallye de Portugal, which contributed majorly to the ban on Group B cars, resulted in the deaths of only three spectators. Yet the consequences were enough to create a total overhaul of the technical regulations of the sport. To think, all that in a world before Twitter.

This weekend was another reminder that the motorsport we love, in whatever format, will always be dangerous. Thankfully, for the vast majority of the time, things don’t go wrong. But when they do, the consequences can be severe. Let us not hide away from that reality, but embrace it to ensure lessons and learned and steps taken to reduce the risk of it reoccurring. That is the best way to preserve our sport, and preserve its image too.

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