The COVID-19 outbreak has thrown the world of motorcycling – and indeed, the world – into a state of chaos. Entire countries are in lockdown to try to prevent the spread of the virus, and avoid their healthcare systems from being overwhelmed. With the health of populations the utmost priority, motorcycle racing has taken a back seat. Event after event, in every discipline, has been postponed or canceled.
It has been a tough start for Jorge Viegas, in just his second year as FIM president. As head of motorcycling's governing body, the Portuguese former journalist has the task of coordinating with race and event promoters around the world, to try to find a way of salvaging as much as possible of the 2020 motorcycling season.
It is an unenviable position, as this interview carried out by Israeli journalist and TV commentator Tammy Gorali makes clear. Together, Gorali and Viegas cover a vast range of subjects, from how the FIM has responded to the developing outbreak of the coronavirus, to the measures being put in place to deal with it by the FIM and Dorna, and what will happen once the lockdowns are lifted.
Viegas explains how a MotoGP development freeze is to be implemented for the 2020 season, how many races will be needed for a world championship to be organized, and what options are under consideration as far as racing in January or combining MotoGP and WorldSBK weekends. The FIM president also emphasizes how important it will be for racing to happen once its possible, to give people some much-needed release after a long period of confinement and restrictions.
But Viegas starts off by telling Tammy Gorali about his first reactions to the outbreak of COVID-19, and how quickly the situation got out of control.
Jorge Viegas: Everybody in the world is wondering what has happened to us, the sky fell on our heads and we cannot see forward. The biggest problem is that we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, there is a light that did not show up yet. I think that, everybody is guessing now, even the epidemiologists don't know but I think we will have a lousy summer, that's my guess.
Q: When this started at the end of December, did you have a feeling that something is going to go terribly wrong?
JV: When it started I was in Macau at the general assembly of FIM Asia (*held in the middle of January), there were a lot of people wearing masks, more than usual, but Macau was still crowded with tourists and travelers gambling. Only after I came back to Europe it started to sound more serious and I said to myself that this will not stop here. Because once it came out of China, it became a problem.
I had still been in Qatar for the opening round, without MotoGP, and while coming back to Lisbon, the airport in Doha felt like a ghost terminal, it was a huge difference from one week to the other, and we had to put everything on hold. By that time I already had asked our staff at the FIM headquarters to work from home. This was over a month ago when we were completely aware that this is not going to be a short-term crisis.
Q: The local federation from China, were you in contact with them?
JV: I was in contact with them already in January but there was nothing, only in the city of Wuhan where it started and they were confined. The Chinese delegates from their federation were in Macau with me, and nothing seemed to be happening and we had no alert. Only when they went back home they were confined for two months as all the Chinese were. And even in February at the commission meetings that we held in Geneva, all the delegations from around the world arrived and participated, everybody except for the Chinese. Only by that time it became a global matter.
Q: When you realized something was going on, what did you do?
JV: I spoke to all my staff, and I wrote to all the federations, and I recorded a video. And we have been in contact since by electronic means like any company in the world. The biggest task has been in regards to the promoters. I have been in contact daily with all the promoters, as we are still trying to save the season, we are still trying to save the championships, whenever they might take place. But I feel this will not happen before the summer.
If everything goes the best that it can and this pandemic can be stopped somehow, and we can race again, even without spectators if needed, we will have the minimum of races whenever we can. Now it's premature to say when or how, but for sure, if we have the minimum chance to organize some races - even if less than planned in a season which I am sure would happen - we would do all we can to save the championship at the moment.
When I say championship, I am talking about MotoGP, WSBK, MXG, Enduro, Speedway, trial, you name it. The only ones we already postponed to next year are the 6 days ISDE and the FIM Moto-Rally as these are two events that need long preparations and demand a lot of work in advance. The 6 days Enduro is planned to be run between Lombardy and Piedmont in Italy with more than 600 participants, and in order to let the Italian organizers recover the investment they already made, we agreed to let the same organizers do it next year, with the same plan, in the same location. This decision was very welcomed by all. So these two events, we are not going to it this year for sure.
Q: Also because it's not just tracks, it's also infrastructure. There is still danger, you need hospitals and medical resources in case of injury?
JV: Even though our sport is a lot less dangerous than it used to be in the past, we have to start working again only when things are back to normal, at this current situation it's completely impossible to even think of organizing races.
Q: Same for national championships?
JV: We have at the FIM our department for the national federations and this has been very helpful, as they are in contact with all of our members and we know exactly what is happening in each country. All the federations are closed and all the staff are at home, so we are in touch with all the local presidents. But everybody is waiting and hoping this will pass. All the national championships are currently canceled and if we restart with the races, we have then to comply with all the national and continental ones as best as we can. We will try to compress 12 months off championships in three, maybe five months. Even if we go into January, which is a possibility. But that's why we are here, we are here to try to find solutions, otherwise we should just have to get a computer running instead of us.
Q: Carmelo Ezpeleta said that there are solutions to any possible problem, but he also said that if the championship is pushed until January it will affect 2021 also?
JV: In case we need a minimum of races to have a championship, and there are not enough weekends this year, if we need to go one or two weekends into January, we will do it for sure, it's not a taboo. But it will happen only as a last resort, if we really need it. And then we will have to adapt the 2021 championship, because it is not only 2020 that will be harmed. Don't think 2021 will be a completely normal season, because it will not. We have to think two years ahead.
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