FIA admits rally spectator safety needs improving

They had to react and they did react. What happened in Spain and what (almost) keeps happening everywhere else, even in World Rally Championship class events, finally pushed FIA into action. For now this action is limited to words and promises and initiatives, but they have to start somewhere, I guess. Six people died in Spain and FIA reacted. Is this the magic number? I feel awful for even making that connection, but it’s there. Was it because this accident was plastered all over the world, mainly by media otherwise completely oblivious to rallying and motor sports in general? Did someone high up feel threatened by this sudden attention? I honestly think they didn’t and I have no doubt their intentions are sincere, because improvements must be made. It’s just that they could have reacted sooner, much sooner. Maybe after Hayden Paddon’s off in Argentina, for example? Or after accidents in Mexico not to mention probably countless other accidents and incidents on regional or national events around the world. It’s easy to find a photo or video evidence on the net, suggesting a whole new generation of fans joined the sport they know too little about. There are idiots, of course, taking selfies in jump landing zones (not referring to the guy in the photo above, he looks to be in a safe spot, besides, nice cut), but there are also fans who simply don’t know enough – it could be their first rally ever, should it also be their last (thing they ever did)? FIA did release a spectator safety campaign video before the Spanish accident, so things were moving in a good direction even before this tragedy. Now, they must start moving even faster and go from initiatives to actions as soon as possible.

I don’t know enough to be in a position to comment on each of the steps, listed in the memo released after the urgent meeting, but bullet no. 1 is all sorts of strange. It paints a very frustrating picture, for me at least. There are guidelines and suggestions, but they’re just that, guidelines. FIA can make those as strict as they like, but organizers obviously have an option to ignore them and, basically, do as they please. FIA cannot sue them or punish them outside their jurisdiction, sure, they can kick events from various elite calendars and such, but if organizers deliberately ignore safety guidelines, FIA can’t do much about it. Or can they? I would really like to hear the outcome of many investigations which are, I have no doubt about it, taking place as we speak, concerning many incidents in the WRC and other series. If FIA has the authority to stop the events or cancel stages, then that power must be used as often as needed, no matter if the event is of local or WRC flavour.

Again, I am sure things were moving ahead in terms of improving spectator safety even before the Spanish accident, but if they did, we heard little about it, except for the video. Instead, safety must be everywhere, all the time, articles, videos, education, education and more education. And behind the scene, severe punishments and penalties for organizers who disobey and disregard safety standards, no matter who they are. And then we want to hear FIA’s confirmations of actions taken, not in forms of official events bulletin or obscure internal notifications – we want to hear them react each time there is a major incident or accident and if anyone is found responsible, we want to see them named and punished, from events to individuals. I know it will never happen and I know events will keep their places in calendar if there is enough political or financial pressure, but I can dream.

By the way, what was that truck doing on the recce in Australia?

Here’s what FIA released after the meeting.

FIA OUTLINES PLAN FOR IMPROVEMENT OF RALLY SAFETY FOLLOWING URGENT MEETING

Jean Todt, FIA President, yesterday chaired an extraordinary meeting with the Presidents of the FIA Commissions involved in rally safety.

Those in attendance included:
– Gérard Saillant, Medical Commission
– Ari Vatanen, Closed Road Commission
– Carlos Barbosa, WRC Commission
– Peter Wright, Safety Commission
– Arman Barfull, Rally Commission
– Richard Schilling, Cross Country Rally Commission
– Carlos Gracia Fuertes, President, RFEDA (Spanish ASN)
– Michèle Mouton, WRC Manager

As part of the meeting, the recent tragic accidents in all levels of rallying were reviewed.

Following this process, the meeting assessed a range of new measures that could support and strengthen the efforts of organizers regarding the safety of spectators, drivers and officials.

As a result of that assessment, the FIA will develop a comprehensive action plan that will incorporate:

1. Reinforcement to all authorities responsible for the organization of rallies of the heightened danger in running rallies outside of the basic framework of the FIA guidelines for spectator and vehicle safety.

2. In conjunction with National Sport Authorities (ASNs) and rally organizers, introduce measures seeking to increase the reach and impact of educational programs for spectator safety.

3. The creation of a dedicated task force of FIA experts, which will be available to support ASNs and rally organizers and assist them in the implementation of the preferred Safety guidelines.

The aim of the action plan is to have a positive influence in rally safety around the world, from local grass roots events through to the pinnacle of the sport at World Rally Championship level.

At the recent Rallye Deutschland, the FIA released a safety video encouraging all rally spectators to be aware of their role in safely attending events.

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