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Armando with Maciej Janowski. Picture: JAREK PABIJAN

IM TRACK Racing Commission director Armando Castagna insists Russia’s ban from international sporting competition will not stop the Speedway Grand Prix series from making its debut in Togliatti.

F “We cannot use the Russian flag


The country is currently serving a two-year suspension after being punished by the World Anti-Doping Association for covering up statesponsored doping.

While Grigory Laguta received a suspension after testing positive for a banned substance in 2017, there are no concerns over Sayfutdinov or Artem Laguta and Castagna confirmed every trackracing drug test was clear in 2020.

The WADA penalty also means Russian venues cannot stage world championship events.

However, the FIM Ice Speedway World Championship was held in Togliatti in February, and Castagna still plans to take an SGP round there on August 28 – although it is now billed as the Togliatti SGP rather than the Russian SGP.

While Russian riders cannot use their flag or national anthem at world championship events, Castagna is still keen for the country’s SGP riders and trackracing venues to remain part of the sport.

He said: “We will do the best we can to stage the GP in Russia. We are still working on it. At the moment, it is definitely on.

“Russia is definitely a big market for speedway. It’s growing. With the SON Final there in 2019, we opened a big territory. We all know how big Russia is.

“The restrictions in place for Russia are like they have in any other sport. For example, the Russian athletes in the skiing world championship were recognised as being neutral athletes.

and we cannot use the Russian national anthem. Those are the only real restrictions we have at the moment. If Sayfutdinov or Laguta win a GP, we will have to play a different anthem.”

With Russia’s athletes still competing and venues still hosting major events, the WADA restrictions appear to be having little more than a cosmetic effect on its sports scene, not least after the suspension was cut from four years to two by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

But Castagna is heartened by the fact no track-racing athlete tested positive for a banned substance in 2020.

He said: “Track racing was totally clean last year – totally clean. I am very proud of that to be honest. In one World Longtrack event, we took 13 tests. This is good for our discipline.”

The FIM and SGP rights holders BSI Speedway have been forced to cancel the Italian SGP, which was due to take place in Terenzano on April 24.

With Italy back in lockdown, Castagna admits there was no chance of staging the scheduled series opener.

He said: “With the restrictions we have until at least May, we decided to cancel it. We had the possibility to run behind closed doors, but the reality is it would have been financial suicide.

“We were really hoping they would allow us to have some members of the public in the stadium – at least some hundred fans. But there is no chance at all.

“Then there are problems with the borders – they are more or less totally closed between Italy and our neighbouring countries. You cannot go to Austria, Slovenia or France – it’s a nightmare. This was another reason.

“You can only travel for very special reasons and circumstances. It’s hard to explain that you’re travelling for a speedway event and bringing three mechanics into the country.”

Despite the Italian SGP being cancelled, Castagna admits there is still a chance Terenzano could be called upon at a later stage if other countries experience coronavirus concerns and Italy’s Covid-19 case numbers fall.

He said: “Terenzano will always remain as a back-up in case there are problems later in the year.

“What we are going through now in Italy could move to northern Europe in later months – we never know. So of course we will keep the option open.”

Castagna admits switching the event to the increasingly-crowded summer months was not an option.

He said: “Moving it to July, August or September may seem an easy way to do things. But the reality is we will have so many events in those months. The calendar will be so full.

“But if we have problems in July or August, then we can reconsider re-staging the GP in Italy.”

The SGP series is now scheduled to open with the German SGP in Teterow on May 22. Castagna says the FIM will hold talks with BSI after Easter to decide the fate of the Bergring Arena meeting.

He said: “After Easter, we will have an SGP Commission meeting and we will talk about Teterow.

“I know that recently they had a football test match with the public in Rostock, which is half an hour from Teterow. We are awaiting the outcome of events where they had the public attending.

“Many decisions will have to be postponed until after Easter because many countries have already said that certain restrictions will remain until then.”

Another imminent issue for the FIM could be rescheduling SGP qualifiers, which are due to start in Abensberg on May 24, with further rounds in Glasgow, Gorican and Lamothe Landerron on May 29.

Last year’s qualifiers were cancelled with federations asked to nominate one rider for the GP Challenge.

The 2021 Challenge is set for Slovak circuit Zarnovica on August 21 and Castagna is determined to decide this year’s line-up on the track, with alternative venues set to be sought if rounds cannot take place.

He said: “After Easter we need to make a decision about those events. I had a few conversions with a few countries on Monday, including Britain.

“We have already agreed that after Easter we will need to discuss and make a decision. It’s too early to say anything now, but the target is to stage the qualifiers at all costs.”

March 27, 2021 speedway star 3

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