GLOBETROTTER

Causing trouble....

Over the years I have occasionally been accused of taking the contrary view simply for the pleasure of having an argument. And if forced I will admit to a certain mischievous nature.

"Eh bah!" spat a Frenchman the other day in the Media Center. "You bloody Engleesh! You have given to us ze mouth and feet disease."

I thought this was a rather boring thing to say and, feeling moderately waspish at the time, I smiled and replied diplomatically.

"Some people might say it is a good thing. We are all Europeans together and we should share things. We've been giving you farming subsidies for years. Now we are just putting a few of your peasants out of business to cut down costs for all of us, so really you should say merci beaucoup and not be so objectionable."

And I wandered off leaving a rather wide-eyed Frenchman making strange wheezy noises.

I could not help myself. I am not by nature a nasty person but if pushed I think one should push back and I have no qualms about the subject matter. I was always told that the best way to have a successful dinner party was to avoid all questions relating to politics, to sex and to religion. It was not long before I came up with the ultimate question to cause trouble: "Do you think that Catholics should sleep with Protestants in Northern Ireland?"

Oh, I remember some wild dinner parties with that one. In one of my former residences we used to invite people who we knew would spark off one another. It was a sort of spectator sport and when the flak started to fly I would retire beneath the table while vegetarians battled huntsmen, right battled left and good fought with bad.

No subject was taboo. It was fun and often rather educational.

I was reminded of this on the flight to Malaysia when I was reading about the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. This year this amazing event claimed the lives of 23 women and 12 men who were crushed in a stampede. It seemed to me that over the years I have read the same story time and time again. Only the numbers are different. And it struck me as odd that the newspaper reports were not complaining about the need for bigger run-off areas for pilgrims to avoid the constant repetition of the same mistakes.

Of course getting into religions is usually the recipe for lots of irate letters from little old ladies in refined seaside resorts like Frinton-on-Sea (it is amazing where these Muslims get to these days). And then you get the death threats from men with long beards in places where ladies have to dress in voluminous tent-like structures (No, I am not talking about Minnesota). One is simply not allowed to complain about religion killing people, but if motor racing is involved everyone is allowed to criticize the sport.

Have you ever wondered why there is always such a fuss in the newspapers if someone is killed in a motor race? The slaughter of 35 Muslims in Mecca warrants only a passing paragraph but the newspapers have screeds of verbiage if something falls off an F1 car and kills a passing parrot.

The more I think about it, the more unfair it is. Motor racing is a dangerous business. Every so often there is going to be a fatal accident because people are trying to push back the limits of what is possible. They are trying to bend the laws of nature and you cannot always get away with it. Over the years many lessons have been learned and nowadays the Formula 1 cars are amazingly safe - but there is still the same old screaming headlines whenever there is an accident.

Why?

Why does motor racing allow itself to be bullied by the do-gooders? People are allowed to die doing all kinds of stupid things but if someone goes to a motor race and is accidentally killed, it is a good excuse for the press to call out the National Guard.

What bugs me is that it is not about the value of human life. Or the lack of it. The editors never bother to try to ban mountains. Not long ago I was somewhat taken aback to read about a series of accidents in the Italian Alps which claimed the lives of 10 people in a single day. There had been a snap of cold weather and the mountain paths were rather slippery. Six experienced climbers fell off their perches and four others were killed skiing over cliffs and into trees, snowplows and so on...

And I thought to myself: imagine what would be in the newspapers around the world if 10 people were killed in a motor racing accident. And then I got on to what they call "General Aviation". This is what is done by people with small airplanes. Every other day one or two of these flying machines fail to live up to the first part of that description and plunge into the ground. No-one makes a fuss.

Not so long ago someone sent me a bunch of statistics (what is the collective noun for numbers?) which had been published by the US National Transport Safety Board. From this I discovered that in 1998 in the United States of America a total of 43,920 people were killed in transportation accidents. As one would expect most of these were accounted for by automobile accidents on the roadways of America. Trains scored well with a total of 831 people having their clogs popped by iron horses. Recreational boating wiped out a further 808 and those wildly dangerous bicycles snuffed out 794. General aviation helped 621 people to shuffle off their mortal coils. I have no idea how many people died in 1998 in motor racing accidents but I would be amazed if the figure was higher than 20 and to get that high one would need to scour every little speedway from coast to coast. Even if it was 100 people it would still be a tiny percentage.

So why is there so much preaching about motor racing needing to worry about safety? Knife swallowers are not forced to stop nibbling their cutlery; cave walkers continue to lose themselves in troglodyte chambers and tightrope walkers continue to pull strings to do their thing.

I think it is fair to say that motor racing should be allowed to live and let die as well. It is not desirable that people should lose their lives but the dangers of our sport have reduced to such an extent in recent years that the insurers have been forced to lower premiums because they have to pay out so rarely.

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