Belfast Telegraph

North West 200: Not good enough for road race cheerleaders to deride critics as ignorant

By Malachi O'Doherty

Members of the road biking community don't like being criticised. Last week I posted a comment on Facebook arguing that the BBC, through its extensive coverage of the NW 200 for example, should not be acting as a cheerleader for a sport that costs lives.

Then on Monday the Nolan Show asked me to engage with Phillip McCallen on the same subject.

McCallen is a dealer in motorbikes and accessories, so any curtailment of the enthusiasm for road biking would hit his business.

He is also an experienced bike racer himself.

His main point was that since I knew nothing about the sport I had no right to be commenting on it.

That's the line that was taken up by others on the programme and on Twitter.

Superbike rider Glenn Irwin and others thought I was showing disrespect to the father of Malachi Mitchell-Thomas, who had died in a race at the weekend.

And some chipped in with the line that people die while fishing, so the fact that someone dies road racing is not grounds for banning it, or you would have to ban fishing too.

I have no wish to add to the grief of the Mitchell-Thomas family, or to the families of others who have died and been injured.

The riders know the risks they take. They are proud of their ability to take them. They drive at speeds in which the margin for error disappears and the consequences of a brief mistake are terminal.

I couldn't do it; that's true.

But there is a paradox in the attitude that McCallen and others are taking.

On the one hand they want critics to shut up unless they can establish that they are inside the road racing community; on the other they want the wider society in Northern Ireland, the BBC and the Tourist Board and others to marvel at what they do and help fund it and raise support for it.

Turn off the tv if you don't like it, say some of the tweets. And I do.

These are shockingly bad arguments which show how those who love road racing don't know how to defend it against critics.

But I doubt that those who organise the sport at a higher level, that those who report so enthusiastically on it for the media - it also gets wide coverage in newspapers - and those who want our taxes to fund investment in it would really defend shutting the wider "ignorant" public out of the debate.

And you don't need to know the difference between a Kawasaki and a kamikaze to be appalled at the toll of death and injury, which suggests that sometimes little distinction exists there anyway.

Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was described by his father Kevin as "a petrolhead (who) just wanted to go faster".

Kevin Thomas respected that desire for greater and greater speed.

Fine. Let people clear that with their own consciences.

My question is whether the rest of us should facilitate such a desire, even celebrate it, as much of the media clearly does in its coverage of road race events like the North West 200.

It would probably be pointless and even dangerous to ban it.

No one supposes that such a rich culture with such deep roots would simply go away.

But some of us think it is a sad thing that young men want to risk their lives and that so many are dying - 11 in Northern Ireland in the last 10 years, in the worst decade since the 1970s.

It's not good enough just to sneer at those who stand aside appalled.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph