Motorsport Australia is working to lobby governments in an attempt to restart motorsport as quickly as possible.
Like most other sports, motorsport has ground to a halt as a result of COVID-19 restrictions limiting mass gatherings and unnecessary travel.
It’s seen a raft of events either cancelled or postponed, with only extremely limited track activity continuing.
In response, Motorsport Australia CEO Eugene Arocca believes the organisation’s greatest value is in lobbying for a prompt return of on-track activities.
“We see our most significant role in providing lobbying and advice and assistance to government, to get the sport going again as soon as possible,” Arocca told Speedcafe.com.
“We can take the (Formula 1 Australian) Grand Prix as being the date when the sport almost shut down on the spot.
“There were some activities and events that continued into late March, even early April, but for all intents and purposes we’ve been conscious of the fact that government has expected that we do not participate in motorsport at a large level.
“We’re respecting that, but working on how we can get going as soon as possible.”
State and territory governments across the country currently stand as gatekeepers to any resumption in sport of all kinds.
While Motorsport Australia provides permits for events, responsibility for adhering to any restrictions or limitations imposed by the government falls to the organiser.
In many instances, that has seen organisers opt not to push ahead with events, either because they can’t satisfy current requirements or there has been a lack of competitor interest.
Motorsport Australia is working to develop a submission to state and federal governments to advocate for the sport, especially at lower levels where there are fewer competitors, team staff, officials, and spectators at a given event.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the horse racing industry has been able to continue largely unhindered.
While Arocca concedes there are some similarities between horse racing and motorsport, there are other factors also at play.
“One of the more unique elements of motorsport is that we need to have people physically stationed at selected points around the venue,” he reasoned.
“(Horse) Racing doesn’t necessarily have that requirement.
“But I think from day one there’s been an appetite by government to keep racing continuing.
“They seem to have been given an exemption from day one and, provided they’ve met all the government’s expectations, they’ve been allowed to continue.
“To put it bluntly, if the biggest sports in the country, such as the AFL and NRL, have not been able to continue whilst racing has been, it’s clearly something peculiar to racing that they’ve been able to lobby about that has given them that opening that other sports haven’t been able to gather.
“We’re making submissions to nearly every state, and certainly the federal government, in the next couple of weeks around what we believe Motorsport Australia can offer to accelerate any potential return to motorsport at the lower levels, building up to the national levels,” Arocca added.
“I know that Supercars have also been in discussions with various state bodies.
“For us it’s really continuing to engage, review what has been put out by the relevant Sports Ministers, which is almost every two or three days a Sports Minister is putting something out, and continuing to watch what’s happening at the Medical Officer level.
“But at the same (we are) time preparing a submission that we hope to be able to finalise in the next seven to 10 days, to put directly to all of the state bodies and the federal body, about motorsport, the importance of motorsport, the community significance of motorsport, and how anxious we are to get back, within a controlled environment and a responsible way of doing it.”
Arocca believes a return could come as soon as next month, but expects it would be a phasing-in process rather than a specific watershed moment.
Aside from competitors and venues, motorsport relies on a host of others to ensure its safe running, including medical professionals, who are currently engaged in the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is also the added complexity of different restrictions in place across the country and, at national level, inability to freely travel to attend events.
It’s understood events scheduled to take place at the beginning of this month did not go ahead as those running the meeting were unable to satisfy the restrictions put in place by the government.
They included social distancing and limitations on the number of people who could attend an event.
Motorsport Australia also worked to run the opening round of the Shannons Motorsport Australia Championships at Sydney Motorsport Park, but was forced to postpone that event as it too was unable to satisfy the restrictions in place at the time.
“We know that Queensland and Western Australia are looking to start to reduce the social restrictions in the next week or so, in fact, some have already started, whereas Victoria’s made it clear that they’re not doing anything until the 11th of May,” Arocca explained.
“Right now we’re keeping a watching brief on every state, but my personal view is that we can expect some sort of low-level club activities by possibly the end of May, early June.
“It’ll be a tentative re-engagement at the lowest level, where the numbers are fairly minimal, and I think it will then gradually build up hopefully to some activity in June or July at the higher level; by that I mean state level and probably even national level.
“I know Supercars are working on a plan to get back as soon as possible but it’s such a fluid situation that all it could take is for an outbreak or a peak in one of the states, and it’s likely that all of the other states would probably take note.
“So, a cautious, yet optimistic approach is suggestive that over the next six to eight weeks we’ll get a better picture. I personally don’t expect much to happen in the next four to six weeks.”
It’s a viewpoint shared by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with the national cabinet set to meet on Friday with a view to discussing a return of elite and community sport.
In comments made to the media during an address on Wednesday morning he linked the return of sport to the use of the COVIDSafe app.
“I stress again, if we want to get back to sport, we need to download the app,” he said.
“It’s not a mandatory requirement but it’s common sense. Australians want to see that happen.
“When we sit down as a national cabinet and make these decisions about easing restrictions, it’s one of the many things we’re going to be looking at.
“I’d love to see community sport get back. The evidence we’re seeing about transmission in outdoor areas is encouraging. The medical evidence is encouraging.
“But for us to have confidence of a COVID-safe Australia then we need the COVIDSafe app to be in place.
Arocca is also realistic that a return to racing will also require time for competitors, who may have been impacted by the economic impact of the pandemic.
“We know that there’s talk about unemployment of up to 10, 12, 13, 15 percent, and like most sports, we’re a disposable income sport,” he noted.
“What’s unmistakable is that people own cars, and they like to go racing, and I think there’ll be a staged, responsible return to motorsport, but it will probably take 12 to 18 months.
“I can’t imagine that everyone will simply rush out and get into their cars the first day of any opportunity.
“I think people will sit back and clean up what is inevitably going to be a consequence of the last three months, and the next three to six or nine months.
“If anyone thought any different to that, there’s the challenge of crowd numbers, there’s the challenge of spectators. There’s the challenge of finance, and money, and petrol.
“We aren’t going to have the same low levels of petrol cost in six months or nine months, when things get going.
“We’re just watching it, and getting feedback, and listening to our members as much as we can
“The reality’s going to be that we’re not going to return to 27,500 licensed competitors, which is a record, next month. We are going to be slowly building back up to that over a period.”