Single Track Mind: Post Olympic Thoughts

August 17, 2012
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

The Assen TT field early in the race.
Dorna could to take a note or two from the recent London Olympics, if they want to see attendance increase.

I wouldn’t normally devote two consecutive STMs to similar subjects but the success of the last week’s Olympics as an event, and in terms of British medals, has really got me thinking about motorcycle sport again – and the mess we are currently in.

First a European Union joke: the second attempt at humour in addition to the one of believing that Europe can ever be a union in the same way that America functions. It goes something like this.

If you ever want a project to work in Europe, and be a world-beating success, you need the Germans to design and build it; the Italians to style it; the French to provide the catering and the British to organize the whole job. Okay, this is a crude, racial stereotypical generalisation but like all these jokes, there is a thread of truth in the story.

For certain, the London Olympics were the best organized in the event’s history. Everything ran like clockwork and there were no hitches along the way. In terms of putting on a big event, and my goodness it was mammoth, the Olympics showed the British at their best.

So, the easy fix would be to fire all the Spanish and move Dorna to London so that MotoGP ran like the Olympics. That would be another case of racial stereotyping which, whilst bringing a smug look to the face of Brits throughout the nation, would not necessarily be the answer.

One of the key reasons why the Olympics worked was money. Britain is in a dire financial mess but, having begged for the poison chalice of hosting the event, there were only two options. First, cut corners and run a disaster which would have the world laughing at us or secondly, just write a blank check and do the job outstandingly well. Fortunately, the latter course was followed and we had a stunningly successful event.

Now to the small print – the bit which the country is only beginning to start reading as we stagger out of our metaphorical bed the day after the party, furry tongued, black eyed and aching. The original price ticket when we went to shop for the Olympics was around $6 billion. Note that figure. Six thousand, million dollars.

Loris Baz  76  ahead of the field at Silverstone.
World Superbike riders at Silverstone in Britain. Both WSBK and MotoGP are owned by the same company: Bridgepoint.

However, by the time the salesman had pitched us a few tantalizingly seductive extras the tab came to around $17 billion. In truth, we really don’t know how much the event has cost us except that it is a lot – something in excess of a quarter of our total defence budget and about the same fraction of our annual funding for education.

However the money was well, if lavishly, spent and the result was a self-evident success.

Compare this with the half-hearted way MotoGP and World Superbike are financed – and the shoddy show which results. I have suggested many ideas on how to improve MotoGP and I now confess to having made the same mistake as many inside observers of a business by missing the staringly obvious. Instead of tinkering around the edges with introspective improvements simply start with a clean sheet of paper and combine the two series.

Both MotoGP and WSBK are owned by the same company: Bridgepoint – a London based Investment Company with strong connections to F1 car racing as well as a huge range of other interests. If you accept as fact, which it is, that no-one is making any money from organising either a MotoGP or WSBK round – which they aren’t – then why not combine the two series into something truly spectacular?

Get rid of the silly Moto 3 and 2 classes in MotoGP and bin the myriad of deeply uninteresting divisions in WSBK, retaining only World Superbike and World Supersport. The main act would remain as MotoGP and there would be an easy, and natural, transition between the three classes.

Now, how about a day at the races in which you could see MotoGP, plus World Superbike and World Supersport? The best riders, on the best bikes, racing in a lavishly promoted event with all the media and PR hype of the Olympics. Would that get you on the road to Laguna Seca or the Brickyard? Nothing cheap and nasty; nothing done down to a price – just a truly world class celebration of all that is good about motorcycling.

And here’s a final thought. With a true World Championship of Motorcycling, spectator attendance would be certain to exceed the combined gate of the two separate events in a country. WSBK in particular is attracting audiences not much in excess of good club racing and spectators are staying at home in droves for MotoGP. Let’s learn from the Olympics, think big and do the job right.

Joe Francis is an 14 year-old rider who has won every championship hes contested.
Joe Francis is a 14 year-old British rider who has won every championship he’s contested.

The twin sister of London Olympic success was Britain’s third place in the medal table. In fact, in terms of the population to medal ratio we were easily #1. I take particular pride in this achievement because I actually made my Physical Education Teacher burst into tears I was so bad at all forms of games, running and any activity where various parts of my body had to act in harmony. Therefore, I made my contribution to my country’s outstanding achievement by consuming a series of large glasses of vintage cider and munching through a significant amount of our very fine local cheeses – with a good side order of fat olives in recognition of the international flavour of the Olympics – whilst slumped on the couch watching the sweating athletes on TV.

So why did Team GB do so well? A big factor was the passionately enthusiastic crowd who cheered on every British competitor so that they achieved their absolute best. That’s to be expected and well done to all the Brit fans – including couch potato me.

However, a bigger reason – vastly bigger – is the half a billion dollars which has been spent in the last four years ensuring that anyone with half a chance of doing well at the Olympics had the best coaches in the world – and Britain recruited experts from every corner of the globe – superb facilities and funding to pay athletes to train and be the best.
This is the same policy followed by the USA with its College Athletics programmes and China, where their athletes effectively work for the government. For Rio in four years’ time, British athletes have been promised $200 million a year to stay competitive – and that’s a lot of money.

Much of the money for this investment comes from very poor people buying tickets for our National Lottery in the faint hope of not being quite so poor in the future. Currently, the odds of hitting the jackpot are something in the region of 14 million to 1 which explains why people like my Mum bought lottery tickets and I didn’t – and don’t.

Regardless of the odds, the range of Olympic sports – from synchronized swimming, yes really – to BMX and everything in between – and motorcycling is stark.

I would now like to introduce you to one of Britain’s brightest hopes for Grand Prix success – 14 year old Joe Francis. Joe has an interesting statistic on his resume: he has won every championship he has ever contested. In his first season racing in the 125cc class of British Superbike he is currently laying in second place.

Joe Francis may be Britains brightest hope for Grand Prix success.
Joe Francis may be Britain’s brightest hope for GP success.

Here is Joe’s website:

Now this is where things get really interesting. Not only is he brilliant on a bike – I once rode in the same race as Joe and he was so fast that I thought the chain had broken on my bike – but he is the sort of son every parent wants.
Off the bike, Joe is charming, modest, intelligent, well-dressed, good looking, and desperate to learn and improve himself as a person. In fact, if he were a swimmer or discus thrower he would have been fast tracked as an Olympic medal certainty.

Instead, Joe’s family scrimps and saves to pay for his racing with the help of a few loyal sponsors – all of whom are from the bike world.

Despite ticking every single box in terms of skill level, effort, dedication and PR skills no-one outside motorcycling has a flicker of interest in supporting him.

The reason is simple. We will not, as a sport, face outward and allow the general public in. We insist on behaving like some isolated tribe, almost unknown outside of our forest fastness, keeping to our own rituals, following our own way of life and, yes inevitably, in-breeding.

We don’t welcome in the rest of the world – nor is anyone much interested in us.

This is why we need to learn from the Olympics. We need one consolidated World Championship attracting huge audiences, sponsorship money and a progression channel for the best young riders in the world.

It’s been fun in the jungle for the last 118 years but now we need to come out and join the rest of the world. And if we don’t, we will follow the same path as many, many species who couldn’t adapt – extinction.

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