Cycle Speedway – Graham Elliott, Chair of the Cycle Speedway Commission

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Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain

21 JUL 2015 - IPSWICH, GBR - Graham Elliott, Chair of the Cycle Speedway Commission, pictured at Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain (PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) (NIGEL FARROW/COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW : www.nigelfarrow.com)

(PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

21 JUL 2015 – IPSWICH, GBR – Graham Elliott, Chair of the Cycle Speedway Commission

Cycle speedway caught on quickly across post Second World War Great Britain with over two thousand teams, more than four hundred of which were in London, being formed during the following years. Now with only thirty clubs and around eight hundred registered riders, and the unused tracks becoming either overgrown or redeveloped, the sport is at a crossroads.

“I reckon personally that if you’ve got a club that’s got less than thirty registered riders they’re on the knockings,” says Graham Elliott, Chair of the Cycle Speedway Commission who himself raced when he was younger. “They’re going to struggle to survive and there’s only literally about 17 that are doing better. Of the thirty there are several that have only six or seven riders registered. Its got to change or it will go, it’s as simple as that.”

The larger clubs have survived with initiatives to attract children and women and by encouraging older riders to either start or continue riding. However with so few clubs, competing against others can involve large amounts of traveling so limiting the chance to race.

12 JUL 2015 - IPSWICH, GBR - Lee Aris (right) of Wednesfield Aces attempts to hold off Josh Brooke of Ipswich Eagles during their Elite League cycle speedway fixture at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain (PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) (NIGEL FARROW/COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW : www.nigelfarrow.com)

(PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

12 JUL 2015 – IPSWICH, GBR – Lee Aris (right) of Wednesfield Aces attempts to hold off Josh Brooke of Ipswich Eagles during their Elite League cycle speedway fixture at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain

“Its actually very exciting and very interesting with a lot going on but we need to work harder to get more people engaged and absorbed into it and part of that is modernising the image,” says Elliott. “I think a lot of the problem is there is still this major connection with motorcycle speedway which is not progress. That sport in itself is on its uppers and they (the cycle speedway clubs) are not taking the benefit of all the interest in cycling at the moment. You’re going down that motorcycle speedway avenue instead of cycling as such and at the moment British Cycling has got over 100,000 members. I would suggest probably the smart move was to engage with some of those 100,000.”

Funding for the sport comes through British Cycling but Elliott is practical about the amount the sport receives. “As you can imagine when you are talking about a sport that is actually engaging 800 people actively the amount of funding isn’t huge.”

It is a cheap cycling sport to take part in as a competitor. A new bike can be bought for around £200, though secondhand ones can be found through the various clubs or alternatively, for those wishing to follow the example of the sports founders in the late Forties, an old road bike can be converted for racing at least for the short term. Race kit consists of a helmet, long sleeved top, gloves, leggings and a pair of training shoes which though used as brakes on the shale and clay track, and on the concrete kerbs, can last even the top riders a couple of seasons or more.

The expensive part is the building and running of the track. “It is a very costly facility which works against new entrants into the sport. If I wanted to start a road (cycling) club all I’d have to do is find somewhere to meet and some like minded people and thats it I’ve done it” explains Elliott. “If you want to set a course up like this from scratch you are probably going to be looking at finding £50,000 minimum. That’s a very expensive thing to do.

05 MAY 2015 - IPSWICH, GBR - Ipswich Eagles Cycle Speedway Club members race round the track during a club championship night at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain (PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) (NIGEL FARROW/COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW : www.nigelfarrow.com)

(PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

05 MAY 2015 – IPSWICH, GBR – Ipswich Eagles Cycle Speedway Club members race round the track during a club championship night at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain

“The grassroots of the sport was actually about kids with nothing in the pocket, backside hanging out of their trousers at a time when the only things that were about in any kind of volume was waste ground and scrap and they were getting bikes made up out of bits off the dump.

“Somehow we’ve managed to lose contact with that and ended up with these hugely expensive facilities which is not really what this sport is about. Its about people who haven’t got anything having an opportunity to compete and enjoy sport at a very low cost.

“I think there is a lot of potential for cycle speedway to expand its remit. Really its about short oval circuits, its not about cinder tracks or shale or whatever. There’s no reason why you can’t have as much entertainment and fun racing on tarmac, on grass, on dirt, anything at all. What I’d like to see is the sport opening its eyes to those potentials.”

21 JUL 2015 - IPSWICH, GBR - Graham Elliott, Chair of the Cycle Speedway Commission, pictured at Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club at Whitton Sports and Community Centre in Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain (PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) (NIGEL FARROW/COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW : www.nigelfarrow.com)

21 JUL 2015 - IPSWICH, GBR - Graham Elliott, Chair of the Cycle Speedway Commission (PHOTO COPYRIGHT © 2015 NIGEL FARROW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

In an attempt to halt the sports decline a new slimmed down Cycle Speedway Commission, the sport’s management committee based within British Cycling, has been formed. “We’ve quite deliberately gone out and found personalities that are opinionated, strong, prepared to put their ten penneth in and stand by what they say,” says Elliott. “I’ve got great hopes actually because there are some very, very good thoughts and some very, very good ideas come in. One of the things that we are going to try and do is to come up with a programme for change by the end of this season so we can then introduce it over the close season and start moving forwards. If we don’t do it by then its another year gone, another clubs going to go down and so on and so forth but I live in hope.

“One of the things I don’t want to do is chuck the baby out with the bathwater and I don’t want to force change upon people who don’t want it but part of the problem is people have to understand that if they don’t change the way things are done, don’t try and move forwards they will lose what they’ve got anyway. Its only a question of time, its a death by a thousand cuts basically.”

Despite the challenges ahead he is however still optimistic about the sport’s future. “There are an awful lot of very dedicated and hard working people in the sport and as long as they’re about then there’s hope. Its as simple as that.”


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