Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Only the fans can save speedway's GP

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The biggest problem for promoter and the Grand Prix is the lack of big-name Kiwi riders in the top echelons.

The sporting public doesn't often get an all-or-nothing chance to vote with the feet and wallet.

But the moment has arrived for speedway on Saturday night. If Western Springs isn't chokka, Auckland can kiss goodbye to the opening round of the world championship.

Promoter Bill Buckley, the remarkable inventor/businessman and speedway bike die-hard, has lost maybe $1.5m on the first two years of the FIM Grand Prix contract and is loath to dig deeper. He puts the Springs' capacity at between 25,000 and 30,000 with 15,000 attending in 2012 and just 8000 last year. So this is SOS time - Save Our Speedway. On the plus side, there are no competing events this weekend, helped by the cancellation of the Rolling Stones' concert.

Whether anyone is at fault for the red ink, who knows? Maybe the obstacles are insurmountable. Then again, maybe not. A big crowd is essential, but Buckley says international promoters IMG have driven too hard a financial deal.

I've also heard respected speedway people question whether Buckley is too emotionally attached to the event, to the detriment of its potential.

No one can question Buckley's heart though, nor the achievement of winning approval from the sport's European power base. One thing is clear - what could be a brilliant part of the Auckland event landscape is on the skids.

It will be a crying shame if the city loses a genuine international sporting contest that also encourages motorsport, which doesn't always get the dues to match its deep following.

Speedway ticks enough boxes and presses the right buttons for a non-motorsport enthusiast like me. It involves thrilling, cut-throat duels, a series of one-minute adventures with the odd spill, and the sight of riders doing what looks like the impossible in staying on their bikes. The skill and nerve is stunning.

Speedway still has a working class feel, and is full of interesting characters. There is the historical aspect at Western Springs, a unique venue with a big track and impressive bank. Back in the day, the Springs rocked and not just for rock bands.

Some speedway luminaries including America's highly respected former world champ Greg Hancock believe it should follow other motorsport's high tech improvements. Contrasting that, New Zealand speedway great Barry Briggs reckons the bikes have become too powerful, to the detriment of throttle control and combat action. Overall, speedway retains an attractive, traditional feel. Unfortunately though, traditions in this country have been broken.

There is a huge problem for Buckley and the GP - the lack of big-name New Zealand riders in the top echelons. Australia has two recent former champs in Jason Crump and Chris Holder, and three riders in this year's GP series including Darcy Ward, a sometimes troubled character regarded as the sport's most gifted star. New Zealand doesn't even have a GP candidate.

Transplanted Englishman Jason Bunyan carries the flag as the wildcard entry. With all due respect to a man who does his utmost to encourage the sport here, Bunyan is no Ivan Mauger, Briggs or Ronnie Moore. And there used to be other fine Kiwi riders a notch below that famous trio.

A latter-day Mauger - or even a Larry Ross - would fill Western Springs on Saturday night, no billboards needed. The fans rather than a rider will have to rise to this occasion.

Kaino will be included
Pencil Jerome Kaino into your All Black squad and the World Cup. In fact, use a pen. The bruising loose forward has done enough already to show a money-raking stint in Japan has not dulled him. He's also lifted the Blues into being Super 15 title contenders. As for picking a Super 15 winner though, not for this punter. There are too many random variables that determine the final travel schedule in the final countdown. Home ground advantage counts most.

T20 a joke
T20 cricket is a joke. It's a sad bastardisation of a great game, which includes helping push cricket into a match-fixing quagmire. The latest developments in Indian cricket paint a sad picture but there won't be any urgent action from within because too many people have their snouts in a very deep trough.

Lifting tackles must go
The terrible injury to Newcastle Knights' league player Alex McKinnon has rightly prompted debate about rules and punishments around lifting tackles. Hopefully, the McKinnon disaster will promote a change in the attitude of the players. All rules are made to be broken. But if the players come to grips with the dangers they can put their fellows in, a vital leap forward will have been made. Lifting tackles have to be removed from the game. They are incredibly dangerous and horrible to watch.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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