A knowledgeable, long-standing observer of the sport close up, Stefan Geukens knows more than most what makes this sport tick and his insight was interesting, to say the least.
Our two-hour conversation touched on many points …
The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has been forcing InFront Moto Racing, the organising body for the grand prix scene, to announce tweaks and date changes to the MXGP calendar on an almost daily basis at the moment, so it’s hard for any of the many teams or riders (or fans and sponsors for that matter) to make concrete plans for the near future.
And how hard can riders train to maintain their fitness? Do they do anything that might risk injury and possibly the need for medical treatment and/or hospitalisation in these times when health resources are stretched and the COVID-19 virus lurks around every corner?
Europe has been hit particularly hard by the virus outbreak – Italy and Spain more than most – and Grand Prix motocross (along with every other sport on the planet actually) has been put on ice.
Stefan believes, with different countries imposing their own separate deadlines for their population lockdowns to end, the state of the world motocross championship series has never been more uncertain.
For example, it could be late August before the governments of France, Germany and Belgium free up their sportsmen and women for any kind of activities, let alone risky bike racing; Italy and Spain might be later than all of them, with Spain this week announcing a further extension to their lockdown.
At least six GPs have been tentatively rescheduled to run as late as October and November, so where does this leave the Motocross of Nations, still hanging on to its September date on the calendar? Will the factory teams allow their riders to represent their respective countries in what will now be the middle of the GP season?
Stefan believes, and we agreed with him, that any team which has a rider close to securing a world title, or at least with a good chance of finishing among the top three, would be highly reluctant to back an MXoN bid.
The Americans have, on several occasions in the past, not needed too much of an excuse not to go to the MXoN when it’s staged in Europe, or perhaps have sent only a “B” team.
The participation of Team USA is so important for many who would say that this “Olympic Games of Motocross” is incomplete without them, but, looking at the situation in the United States right now, bike racing is the least of their concerns.
Besides this, the AMA Supercross series (and motocross series too) has also been looking to resurrect itself and run on dates later in the calendar and this will perhaps also create date conflicts with the MXGP and MXoN schedules.
The domino effect of the re-jigged MXGP calendar will also have a negative impact on domestic championships throughout Europe, many of them setting dates around the GP riders to allow them to drop in and give added profile to their events – GP “stars” are crowd-inducing draw-cards on any occasion.
Planning for events at any level below GP status must also be virtually impossible right now.
Stefan said: “For the time being, mass events (sports/music and others) are not allowed in Belgium until August 31. A mass event in Belgium is described in COVID-19 times as a ‘manifestation’, where the organisation of the event cannot guarantee that the spectators can stay at least 1.5 metres apart for the entire duration of the event.
“Also for Infront (promoter of the MXGP world championships), the FIM, constructors, organisers, teams, drivers and sponsors, the motocross world championships have major political and financial interests at stake.”
On April 16, all parties involved received this official announcement from the promoter and FIM:
“Following the latest announcements of some National Governments concerning the postponement of mass events, Infront Moto Racing and the FIM are closely following the situation in the jurisdictions where MXGP takes place in 2020 and awaiting further news.
“Once the reopening phase post COVID-19 lockdown and its impact to events such as MXGP is clearly defined, a 2020 MXGP Calendar review will be completed and further information on the next Grand Prix events will be released.”
So it’s obviously still a very unsettled situation and it could be weeks or even months before a clear picture emerges, whether dates can be agreed upon, whether racing commitments can be honoured, whether transport systems can offer or even cope with the movements of race teams, equipment, spectators and so forth (and that’s assuming that fans might still be keen on tripping around Europe right now … highly unlikely).
Perhaps the racing may only go ahead “behind closed doors”, perhaps to be broadcast on live-streaming or TV network platforms.
Stefan said: “In France, the decision to allow a mass event like the Tour de France (bicycle race) from the end of August has political and financial implications. Organisation ASO and sponsors of the event and the teams and participants have undoubtedly exerted pressure to organise a Tour de France. Normally, the Tour would run from June 27 to July 19. Now a new date has been announced and the largest cycling event in the world will be from August 29 to September 20.
“Then I heard on Belgian television that a renowned team of virologists had said that a Tour de France cannot take place on the new date. This came from internationally respected virologists and they all agree – Benjamin Cowie, professor of epidemiology at the University of Melbourne and Stefano D’Amelio, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Rome.
“And during the Giro, probably in October, riders and the public will still be at great risk. A second wave of infections is very likely. The hypothesis is now that the second wave, which will be less severe, will come in September or October. That will be the period when the Tour and the Giro will be on the calendar.
“I have no idea to what extent these statements by the renowned virologists are going to influence the politicians. If there is any doubt whether the new date of the Tour de France is well chosen, it will be even more difficult for a much smaller sport like motocross to get together another calendar in 2020.
“I sincerely hope that Infront and FIM will succeed in achieving a restart of the world championship in 2020, with public health as the most important issue in the choice of the races.”
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
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