After more deaths at Isle of Man TT something needs to be done
Six years ago I first aired an opinion on road racing. Malachi Mitchell-Thomas had died in the North West 200. He was 20 years old.
I posted a comment on Facebook to the effect that I thought it was time that we stopped treating road racing as an exciting sport and promoting it. The North West 200 every May is sponsored by the BBC and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. It is billed as an exciting sports event and huge numbers of people come to see it and spend money here.
Sports reporters cover it with breathless enthusiasm. In all it is regarded as a quite wonderful part of our sporting culture and our tourism offer.
But riders get killed.
Or to be more brutally frank, riders kill themselves by riding too fast and losing control or by riding on machines that fail them.
Is this really a price we want to pay for the excitement and the tourism boost?
That’s all I was asking. I don’t think it makes sense to ban road racing because that would likely drive it underground and perhaps lead to more deaths.
But the reportage around the deaths of riders tends to marvel at their passion and their daring as if these were good things. Dead riders are spoken as heroic men who might even have preferred to die young at 200mph than old in bed.
There is something horribly unrealistic about this. Malachi Mitchell-Thomas might have lived to the age of 90. The young life that was lost represents a loss of a potential 70 years of working, loving, being loved, making new friends, travelling the world, accumulating property, whatever.
I know at 71 that life has barely started at 20.
Following my first comments I was invited onto the Nolan TV show where I argued my point with one of the all time greatest riders and survivors of road racing, Phillip McCallen. I was shocked by his weak arguments in defence of road racing. He still comes out with the same nonsense, that it is no more dangerous than other sports.
The riders make their choices knowing the risks, he says, and think of all the money that comes in.
Following that discussion on air I was inundated with abusive tweets and blocked a lot of those who were insulting and threatening me.
I am well used to being insulted on Twitter but usually by IRA supporters. Road race supporters were worse.
One said I should have my knees done, or better still my face. Liam Beckett, a respected sports commentator, retweeted that. He has since apologised but on air last week called me an attention seeker.
These people do not want a candid discussion about the cost in human life of their sport so they misrepresent my position as a call for a ban.
And one thing that came out in the comments was how many of those attacking me knew several of the men who had crashed and died.
These are people who are losing friends at a rate you would normally only expect in war time.
I suspect they agonise over this themselves. Liam Beckett, for instance, withdrew from commenting, so hurt was he by the death of yet another Dunlop, William.
He appears to have recovered.
Those who attack me argue that I know nothing about road racing because I don’t go to the events.
Some argue that I know more than I let on because some years ago, before I made any comment, I gave media training to people who organise racing events and riders.
This apparently makes me a hypocrite. They love repeating that.
Last week when Davy Morgan was the third rider to die in the Isle of Man TT this year, Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster phoned me and asked if I would discuss this with Phillip McCallen again.
I know that many other commentators and journalists have similar views to mine but they have had the abuse and decided that life is easier without it.
So I had another argument on air with Phillip. Then the Frank Mitchell show asked me on and introduced me as a campaigner against road racing. I am not campaigning but I am reacting to invitations to speak on it and this article is the first unsolicited piece I have done on it.
It is not part of a campaign but an effort to explain.
On Wednesday I was back in a studio confronting Phillip yet again and hearing the usual trite nonsense, “Malachi you don’t know what you’re talking about, you don’t understand passion, and look at all the money that comes in and how popular it is”.
And since then the tweets have continued about how stupid and ill informed I am, how people die on waterways in greater numbers. Phillip likes this argument because he doesn’t know the difference between numbers and proportion.
Then the news came on Friday that two more men, a father and son, had died at the TT.
I don’t want to be the only one going on about how it just isn’t right to encourage such dangerous racing.
Road racing is an obsession for some of the riders. It gives them a buzz they feel they can’t live without. I get it.
I just don’t want my taxes or my licence fee to be endorsing and encouraging that passion.
There’s more to life than speed.