The confusion surrounding the granting of visas for Aussie speedway riders competing in the UK is expected to be made much clearer within the next few days, according to British Speedway Promoters Association chairman Alex Harkess.
And Harkess, who is also Edinburgh Monarchs’ team manager, revealed that the Capital club’s top Aussie pair, Sam Masters and Justin Sedgmen, who could have been delayed because of the on-going wrangle, will be back in Scotland in plenty of time for the start of the new season in March.
Following a clampdown by the UK Border Agency on the criteria required for Australian riders to compete in the UK, all clubs in the Premier League will attend an Agency-organised workshop in a concerted effort to iron out some of the mistakes that certain clubs have made over their documentation, which led to the refusal of a visa for Masters, and Workington’s Mason Campton – sidelining them both in 2013.
And while Harkess conceded that some Aussie stars slipped under the net and didn’t meet the required criteria in the past, he says there is now light at the end of the tunnel over this thorny problem.
Harkess told the Evening News: “Every club got a letter, including ourselves from the Agency, pointing out errors which had been made.
“This workshop will give all clubs the chance to get the paperwork correct if they have Australian riders in their team. The Agency will then process it all and have assured us they are working towards a mid-March deadline to ensure all riders will be here in time for the new season.”
Harkess added: “Over the last couple of years, one or two riders got into the UK who shouldn’t have. This is a general tightening up by the Agency, who are also doing 27 other sports as well – it’s all a bit awkward for everybody at the moment.”
All Aussie riders who want to ply their trade in the UK must have finished in the top four of a State championship to qualify. But, Harkess admits, these guidelines were often ignored.
He said: “Things have been a bit messy for the last few years and matters have now come to a head. Before the UK Border Agency came into being in 2009, the BSPA would always receive an invite from the old immigration authorities to attend their offices to discuss or go over any changes that had come into force regarding the employment of overseas speedway riders in Britain, and those meetings were very good.
“But the new UK Border Agency refused to meet us until last summer, and that’s when they started to dig into everything. But major changes were made to the issuing of visas last April, followed by further changes again in November, and unless you had gone through the small print in detail no one was aware of the new rules.
“Some of the changes did not even relate to speedway, but our sport was unwittingly caught up. But hopefully everything will soon be a lot clearer for all parties, and I personally see light at the end of the tunnel at last.”