At some point you have to ask yourself, are we pretending racing is safe so we can have more racing?
If you are new to downhill, let me give you a quick catch up. IDF is the International Downhill Federation, the governing body for stand up and luge skateboard racing. It organises a World Cup series every year, there are World Cup (WC) and World Cup Qualifier (WCQ) races around the world, the racer with the most points gained from racing is crowned the World Champion.
IDF is sanctioned racing, which means it is a legal race, run to a set IDF rule book, and an IDF guaranteed organiser that brings a certain level of professionalism.
Competitors pay money to register and compete at these races, it is not a token fee, a significant part of a race organisers budget comes from rider fees. This is because there is a large cost to running these World Cup events, and if you break down costs in a race budget, a lot is spent on safety.
This is important to know, as we explain how races are organised.
The IDF does not actually organise events. They are a sanctioning body. I have organised and run a lot of World Cup events in Australia over the last 11 years, so I will use Newton’s as an example of how an event is organised. When I say “I”… I mean ASRA.
When I organise a World Cup event I am responsible for budget, organisation and safety. IDF gives me rules, best practice, and advice but on race weekend, it is all on me, the organiser.
As an organiser, we run a fine line between what is needed and what is required. I can’t run a race at a loss, Newtons has to be sustainable to be long term. I would love to haybale the whole track, and that was done in 2008, paid for by Bathurst Council. It took 3 days of haybaling! We run Newtons with 700 haybales, takes a few hours to set up. However with a 50% increase in hay price in 2019, it was a major part of our budget. We increased our haybales in 2019, when the budget wise thing to do would be reduce them. This is the organiser’s dilemma.
No one wants to save money at the risk of riders safety, but an organiser has to get to a point where no matter how much more we spend, the track can not be any safer.
This brings up the point of my headline. Does IDF have a safety problem or does the sport?
At the end of 2018, we had the death of Pastrana in the semi final of an IDF World Cup in Brazil. That death is still under investigation by Brazilian police and IDF is not commenting on the situation or investigation.
Many people, including myself, argued that IDF was only a sanctioning body and was not responsible for the actual running of the event, that is the “organisers” responsibility. IDF is responsible for the selection of the organiser of World Cup events. What I mean by that is they have certain criteria that they check to make sure the organiser can safely and successful run a World Cup event. I always thought IDF would not choose a new organiser or they would not choose a new track for a World Cup event. It always is a World Cup Qualifier first. This track in Brazil appears to break that rule. I’m not blaming IDF for Pastrana’s death, but I think IDF has not been transparent in what goes into making an event safe, and the selection process of an organiser.
IDF has always maintained that they were not the organiser of the Brazilian race, they were there as a sanctioning body. The blame was with the organiser. Who chose the organiser? If the organiser ran such a poor event that it resulted in a death of a rider, how is IDF not to blame for choosing this organiser?
Newton’s 2019 was the first IDF race after Pastrana’s death. Myself, ASRA board and in particular Lance Evans felt the pressure of running a safe event. After the Australian races, it was followed by the races in the Philippines. This series run by IDF board member Carl Sambrano, who is now IDF President. In the second race, Moonrock, two lugers racing, touched wheels, crashed, and fell off a cliff that had no safety barrier. The days racing was abandoned as the effort to get the two riders up the cliff safety took up the rest of the days track time and the event was closed early.
A second major safety issue at an IDF race in less than 6 months after a fatality.
The racing community is still being kept in the dark. No report from IDF. No announcement other than a few comments it was a freak accident. I’m not alone in having doubts about IDF in 2019. Some of IDF’s biggest supporters after Pastrana’s death have been online with very vocal questions and criticism after this second incident.
If we can not make racing 100% safe, does that mean the sport of downhill racing has a safety problem?
We put four people on skateboards, send them down a hill at speeds faster than a car can do on the same road, they draft and get as close as possible to each other, all doing whatever they can to win. Some openly claiming to have a win or crash style. There is a reason we have rider waivers that state the sport can have a deadly outcome.
Maybe it is not organisers or sanctioning bodies that need to re-think safety.
Is it the competitors that have to be mindful of the consequences of their riding?