COMMENT: Justice for Ged! Show your support for beleagured promoter tonight
If ever there was a case of the punishment not fitting the crime - the treatment of Ged Rathbone is surely it.
A five-figure fine and other associated penalties have been dished out to the Peterborough Panthers owner by the Speedway Control Bureau (SCB) due to his decision to allow Jack Holder to race in Poland rather then the SGB Championship Fours.
Rathbone has worked tirelessly in an attempt to bring success to the city club since stepping in to keep the sport alive at the East of England Arena in late 2014.
The Middlesbrough-based businessman’s only link to Panthers was acting as a mechanic for captain Ulrich Ostergaard, but that didn’t stop him fronting and driving a major campaign to keep a club with a history stretching back to 1970 on track when it looked as if it might be lost.
A civic award and a Sports Personality of the Year gong at the Peterborough Telegraph Sports Awards are indicators of the esteem with which he is held in these parts.
The 330-mile round-trip from his north-east base to Alwalton would have been enough to put off many a potential suitor in his situation, let alone the troubles to balance the books that almost all speedway clubs in Britain experience on an annual basis.
Unless blessed with sibling millionaires (Glasgow) or a brilliant fan-base (Poole), it’s not easy to stay bobbing along above the surface in a sport whose heyday was in the distant past and which has been deserted by many supporters.
Rathbone has done it the hard way by engaging with fans and signing some star names - current British champion Craig Cook, three-time past British champion Chris Harris and the man at the centre of the current storm, Holder - to mention a few.
Never before has a promoter of Panthers been quite so open, but Rathbone is quite possibly a victim of his own honesty.
“I’ve got nothing to hide,” is a phrase he has uttered on more than one occasion. Whether it be discussing crowd levels, finances, rider sackings or many other subjects.
Therefore when opting to allow his top rider to head to Eastern Europe rather than the East of England Arena on August 6, Rathbone dropped a rather large hint that there was a financial reward.
“We’ve done a deal that is beneficial to all parties,” was his exact wording when announcing the decision in a statement on the club’s official website. It didn’t leave much to the imagination
The move drew a furious response from British Speedway Promoters’ Association (BSPA) chairman Buster Chapman even though it has emerged Panthers sought the advice of another member of the organisation’s management committee beforehand.
They also went on to win the event without Holder - making a bit of a mockery of the offence of knowingly fielding a weakened team!
The success was as memorable as it was magnificent with a quartet made up of Harris, Ostergaard, Paul Starke and Simon Lambert making a mockery of pre-meeting predictions of struggle
The celebrations were long-lasting as the Panthers class of 2017 received their trophies from Brian Clark, Ian Clark, Nigel Flatman, Kevin Hawkins and Andy Hines, who earned the club’s first-ever piece of silverware in the corresponding event 40 years earlier.
But the meeting had been preceded by a warning of what was to come. Chapman accused Rathbone of ‘selling British speedway down the river’ in a statement that saw light of day only moments before the Fours began. It also promised that sanctions would follow - two months later they eventually have.
There is no question that Rathbone has breached a couple of rules and that he should quite rightly be carpeted.
He has always accepted that there would be punishment, but the severity of it has shocked even this most unpredictable of sports.
Speedway insiders have suggested that cases such as this would normally attract a fine running into hundreds or low thousands of pounds.
So why, then, have the SCB opted to throw the financial equivalent of an entire library of books at Rathbone?
That’s a question yet to be answered at either end. Only those present in the Tuesday hearing, and responsible for the drastic outcome, know that.
It’s a situation which could not only lead to the loss of a hard-working, straight-talking owner, but also an entire club and one of the finest tracks in the land. Very few places serve up racing as exhilarating as that seen at the venue still referred to as the Showground by many.
The focus will return to the track tonight when Panthers entertain Workington in their penultimate SGB Championship fixture of the season.
They are chasing their sixth successive victory and also have a KO Cup semi-final to look forward to.
Winning another piece of silverware could be one hell of a final hurrah if indeed it comes to that.
Presumably the picture will become considerably clearer in the next few days.
One thing certain now is that Rathbone could do with a bit of support. Many positive social media messages and the creation of a crowdfunding account to raise money for his fine suggest he has that.
Turning out in force tonight would be another way of showing it . . .