I think we can all agree that COVID-19 did a bit of a number on us in 2020. People were losing their jobs, their businesses and their lives, left, right and centre, so it was no surprise that sport, in general, took a bit of a hit. It was a total Jeremy Hunt that almost all the racing had to be either postponed or cancelled altogether. But at least we got some racing in during the late summer C19 lull. All the big championships were at least able to finish their seasons off… in a fashion. But by the time the 2021 season kicks off we’ll all be vaccinated, COVID-19 will be a thing of the past and normal service will be resumed, right? Well I don’t think it’ll be as simple as that, and I’ll tell you why…
First things first, we’re not all about to get a vaccination any time soon. Despite ‘The Chinese Flu’ (to quote former leader of the free world, Donald J Trump) doing its level best to wipe us all out, there are still 7.8 billion people (give or take ten million or so) living on planet earth. Vaccinating that number alone is a big enough challenge for the World Health Organisation. And don’t forget that a great many of that 7.8 billion can scarcely put food in their mouths. So I think turning up with a truck load of COVID-19 vaccine, rather than meat and potato pies, would be taking the piss a little bit, don’t you?
And anyway, before we even made it to 2021, we’d already heard the news that the Isle of Man TT wouldn’t be going ahead again (that’ll be two years on the trot). Sepang wont be hosting it’s usual round of the FIM Endurance World Championship. In fact all of the big international championships have named a handful of ‘reserve circuits’. Just in case any any new nation-wide lockdowns fuck the job up. Who knows what’s going to happen?
My biggest concern though, is where the money is going to come from. In the same way that a global health pandemic forces you to concentrate on the important things (like putting food on the table), and forget about the luxuries in life (like bike racing), so too does a recession. Cast your mind back to the financial crisis of 2007. Anyone who was involved with bike racing will remember how finding sponsorship to go racing became ten times more difficult, seemingly overnight.
The face of money lending changed completely and certain types of loan were all but knocked on the head; meaning suddenly, cash was precious to fritter away on a bit of bike racing. I knew lads that were earning a decent wage racing bikes, back in the early ‘00s, but sacked it off post-credit-crunch because all the teams only wanted a rider that could bring a big budget with them. Nobody had any budget to bring.
What am I banging on about that for? Well the situation we find ourselves in now is not dissimilar to the credit-crunch. Or the financial crisis. The great recession. Or whatever you want to call it. Some businesses will have done alright off the back of the coronavirus, but they are few and far between. Instead most will have been struggling like fuck just to tread water. Profit and loss forecasts written at the start of the financial year will have gone in the bin. Closely followed, unfortunately, by too many members of staff.
Whatever your business, if you’re struggling to pay your staff and your overheads, the chances of you bunging a bike racer a few grand for a logo on their helmet are fairly slim. Giving a MotoGP team a few million quid for a team sponsorship deal? Not happening. And it doesn’t matter whether you are a MotoGP champion or BSB superstock mid-field man; without that injection of cash from somewhere, you’re not going racing.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. It might take a year or two for things to bounce back to what they were, but I have no doubt that they eventually will, post COVID-19. Astute business owners will come up with new ways to make money in the midst of the post-covid recession. Determined bike racers will come up with new and inventive ways to drum up the money they need to find (or buy) a ride.
It’s always been a challenge to find the money to go bike racing, at what ever level. It’s going to be extra challenging in the next few years, but it’s nothing that the sport hasn’t dealt with in the past. If anything, you could argue it just makes it that little bit more exciting; if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.