The risky sport of road racing…

The TT races are well underway in the Isle of Man and sadly there have been three fatalities one of whom, Davy Morgan, was from Northern Ireland.

Being from NI his passing was widely reported and commented on in the local media and inevitably questions were asked about the safety of the racing and the wisdom of running such events which carried such a high risk of fatalities. I have heard these questions being asked many times over the years in previous tragic circumstances.

I happened to hear an interview on Radio Ulster which raised a view that I hadn’t heard before though. The commentator, Malachi O’Doherty, expressed the view that (and I hope I have picked this up accurately and completely) was that while he would not suggest that racing should be banned he felt the event’s should not be promoted, encouraged or glorified in the media. I had some difficulty with this as particularly in Northern Ireland which has long had a strong association with Motorcycle Road Racing the reporting of the racing is obviously very newsworthy and of great interest to many. BBC NI have been providing coverage of all the main road races and ITV4 cover the TT nightly with other programmes added in

I wouldn’t be sure of what the outcome of effectively ignoring racing in mainstream media would be though. In today’s world this gets more complex because having social media channels there is more ways of picking up the news than mainstream broadcasting. Would the suggestion extend to social media and how would that be policed as the regulation of these channels is nowhere near as stringent as say the BBC Charter? The other issue would be why pick out Road Racing as Phillip McCallen, a past TT winner, said fishing (I would say to name but one activity) has a higher annual fatality rate but this is less visible. This is really a much bigger issue than the carrying or not of reportage on individual risk sports or sporting events.

This got me thinking about my own attitude to risk and it is clear to me my attitude has changed over the years. This was illustrated just a few days ago when I chickened out of climbing a ladder to fix a bit of guttering not 20 feet off the ground something a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about doing. The risk I thought wasn’t worth it.

Then I wondered what was the risk and what even is risk? For me, risk is allied to uncertainty and what the perceived outcome would be should something bad happen. Risk is attached to events where the outcome is uncertain and there would be adverse effects should the event go wrong. Risk though is everywhere and in everything. Financial services make much of risk when selling their products. This is perhaps a good example where the Government has legislated to ensure society is aware of risk and good decision making. The trick seems to be having a well-tuned awareness towards risk assessment and ultimately the acceptance, or not, of that risk. There is one more factor in the risk equation – chance, the unknown unquantifiable element in all of this. In my case the risk of falling and having an injury which being older may have significant consequences far outweighed paying a few quid to a younger guy more confident in his ability than I. This is not to say he wouldn’t have fallen but his risk of falling is less and his ability to recover from said fall would be greater.

The thing is though that everyone will have a different view of where the line of acceptable risk is drawn and Id suggest this is very much a learned condition. Someone brought up in a high-risk environment will obviously have a higher tolerance to risk than someone brought up in a low risk or protected environment.

Society ultimately judges people or their ability to manage their attitude towards risk. A person can be deemed to be either Timid Brave or Foolhardy. As I get older reflecting on it my attitude to Risk is now pretty much on the Timid side – Id no long climb ladders for goodness sake! This though does not mean that I don’t take an interest in those that do take risks but I would not be saying oh they shouldn’t be doing that as it is too risky. I do recall recently having a conversation with someone where we agreed that we would rather have 50 good years rather than 70 years filled with regret of not doing something. (I guess you could substitute any number into the ages there!)

Finally, I’m not sure about whether or not society either as a whole or individual has the right to comment on the risk-taking of others. Again the capability of Society as a whole or individuals to protect each other is inbuilt. We generally don’t like seeing others take risks either knowingly or unknowingly and indeed would step in to prevent the risk from being taken and this is a good thing obviously. I would be sure though that there has to be a line drawn where we see that people have become aware of the risk, assessed and accepted that risk proceeds. After all, if we had no risk-takers we would still be dreaming of putting a man on top of Everest on the Moon or winning a TT. The stuff that every little person’s dreams are made of!

Footnote: Just for completeness and in memory of those who have passed the other competitors who lost their lives were Mark Purslow from Llanon, Wales and César Chanal from Lyon, France. My thoughts are with their families and friends.

David Jamison is from Belfast. He has recently retired and to use his own words, now with time on his hands to think and write about things he probably should have thought more about years ago.