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  TT Website Interviews - Alex Downie

Alex Downie is the Isle of Man Minister for Agriculture, and the man who took a lot of the blame for the cancellation of this years Isle of Man TT.
We spoke to him at his home in Douglas, to get his side of the story, and what his views are regarding the running of TT 2002 and the long-term future of the event.

There are some areas of the bike racing community, that see you as the 'baddie' in regards to the cancellation of this years TT. First of all, I would like to give you the chance to put across your side of the story?

My view is that my department didn't make the decision; it was made by the council of ministers, which is the nine ministers, plus the Chief Minister. If you take the fact that we had over 290,000 animals at risk from Foot and Mouth, you don't only have to deal with the aspects would bring to the Island with the loss of the animals, you have got to look at the logistics involved in declaring the status of the foot and mouth, you have to put areas under quarantine, and then you have to start to slaughter animals.

Now you tell me where, on this little Island, with all it's water courses and places we get our drinking water from, where you would even start to bury or burn 290,000 caucuses. It's a lot of animals. All that was taken into the equation, as well as the risk element of bringing foot and mouth over.

In May when the decision was made, there were up to 44 new cases of foot and mouth each day in the UK. They weren't all down in Cornwall or up in Scotland. The most of them were in Lancashire, Cumbria, Cheshire, Dumfries, Yorkshire, North Wales etc, which are all on the main routes into the Island.

While we were assessing the situation, we were seeing the pictures in the news of lorries filled with half cows and all the stuff running onto the motorways, and there is absolutely no way, in the time we were given, that we could bring in a suitable bio-security system were we could disinfect all the people coming into the Island and be able to keep them away from the livestock.

Our big problem with the TT is that we have a circuit, as you know, is nearly forty miles long. Now unless you can keep people and animals away from each other you have massive bio-security problems. Short circuits are different, and in the UK, you have your Brands Hatch's, your Oulton Park's your Cadwell's, which are all inside of, parks where there is no livestock grazing there. That is the difference with Pure Road Racing.

Now, I am very hopeful that the UK will get the disease under control and the figures are coming down. All this was predicted by using the information from the last outbreak. Now although this is much further spread, the pattern of the disease follows the same lines.

There has been a lot of talk regarding the TT for 2002. We are already discussing that with all the other Government Departments involved. We think now that we should be able to run the TT in 2002. Unless there is a mega outbreak in the UK where we are back up to 50, 60, 70 cases per day, we think, given our knowledge now on bio-security we should be able to run the TT and other motor sport events on the Isle of Man next year.

Well that was to be my next question. A lot of people are worried about the TT next year, and the big question that keeps coming up, is this need for a six month period without any cases in the UK, before we can get back to normal?

The period required to give you a clean bill of health is four weeks after the last outbreak. So if we have the last outbreak today, four weeks from now, we could run the TT.

Now that is the best possible case. If we had two cases down in the South of England lets say, and it wasn't on the main routs into the Isle of man, we would still probably say lets run it, because we have the bio-security measures in place now. We would still have to be careful, and perhaps have areas, which were out of bounds to the public, but we should be able to accommodate major motor sport events.

So would it be then fair to say, that it looks promising for next year?

I think we have got to go ahead with the assumption that we are running the TT next year. I'm a keen bike fan myself, and I was very disappointed that we lost both the TT and the Manx this year, and for what it's worth, I think that providing we start early enough, I think we should be in a position where we can run the races in a normal programme next year. This isn't anything to do with your department, but as a member of the Isle of Man Government, you may be able to spread some light on the date clash between next years TT and a round of the British Championship?

I'm quite surprised about this really, because the Department of Tourism made farley strong representation last year through Mr Bartlett and the ACU, and I would have thought that given the huge amounts of money the Isle of Man makes available to the ACU, that they would have been looking after our interests and making sure there wasn't a clash of dates.

The British Superbikes are very interesting but I believe that the TT and other such events, are really the red meat of Motor Cycle Racing and they have been going on since 1907 and there should be some thought given to the specialist nature of those events. They are really the shop window for Motor Cycle Racing and they should be treated with that sort of regard.

I know about what happened last year and of course it was sorted out, but the organisation that runs the British Championship, is separate to the ACU. Have you heard if the ACU are going to try and get this decision changed?

That I don't know. I understand that from comments made by Mr Cretney has made that they are going to try and get it changed.

I think it is a pretty desperate situation myself?

Yes, they are just watering down the riders and fans that will attend both events. However, saying that, I think that the very generous offer Mr Cretney has made with the start and prize money for next year, that should attract the big names. The TT wouldn't be anything without Honda, V&M and the rest of these teams and sponsors, who provide bikes for the up and coming riders. I think a TT win means a lot more to a sponsor than winning a round of the British Superbikes.

As a member of the Isle of Man Government, what sort of feeling do you get from within the Government regarding the future of the TT?

I think the TT itself has a very good long-term future and the Government is very supportive of it. If you take the TT aside, and you look at the hassle, the amount spent on the roads, the extra policing, fire services, support for the marshals… I suggest that if we were running the TT for the first time tomorrow, it would be difficult to put all those elements together. Because we have been running it since 1907, it has become part of the Manx way of life. OK, we get the odd person moaning about the road closures, but by and large, the people in the Isle of Man support the TT and see it as our heritage.

If it wasn't for Gordon Bennett and the Royal Automobile Club coming to the Isle of Man initially and talking to the former Governor of the Island about closing the roads, because in England, you couldn't close the roads. We probably have the best history of motor sport than any other place in the whole world. It started here and I'm sure everyone want's to see it progress. And then you have people like myself who are interested in the historical side of things, and would like to see a TT museum being built.

Do you think the TT museum is going to happen?

I hope so. Then we can maybe get more people back to the Island when the racing isn't on.

Well that's more or less all the questions I have for you. The main thing I wanted to find out, was about TT 2002 and after speaking to you, I think it is fair to say that there is a very good chance that it will be on?


Good. One thing many people might not know about you, and I certainly didn't, is that you a re a very keen bike fan yourself?

That's right. I have been involved with the TT now for 40 years as a Marshal and I am currently part of the team at the start of the races, and a member of the finishing team. SO I'm the first on in the mornings and the last one to finish. I am also a very big fan of old Italian Motorcycles and I have six vintage bikes myself. I am a regular competitor in many of the classic and vintage rallies that we have and I enjoy it very much.

And rather than people say that the Isle of Man Department of Agriculture is anti bikes, I would like to point out that two of our vets are very keen Motorcyclists, one has a large collection of Velocette Motorcycles, the Chief Executive of the Department is a fella called Chris Warren, who has Vellocette Motorcycle and his brother was a very keen and well known Manx Grand Prix rider, Nigel Warren, so within the main body of the Department, there is a lot of very enthusiastic bike people in there. The last thing we want to do is create problems for motor cycle events, but I think in fairness to them, we have to use their professional judgement and the fact that they are responsible for all the animals on the Island, and the health status on this Island, they had to make the recommendation to the Isle of man Government this year.

However, you can be assured, that these same people will come up with a solution, so we can run the races in 2002.

Well it has been great to speak to you, and I think this interview will clear the situation up with a lot of people?

I hope so. I want people to know that the Government are right behind the TT. I mean I for one would like to see the event made into a three week festival, because there are so many other avenues to open up. We want people to come to the racing in 2002 and have a really fabulous time.

Great, thanks for talking to me?

Any time.

Interview by Paul Phillips

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