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Southern 80 Race too Dangerous to Run?

Insider : Amerloc
Southern 80 - A high-octane race of roaring, high-speed power boats towing their ski teams on the Murray River, mastering 124+ bends, hurtling to the finish line at Victoria Park, thrilling massive crowds of spectators lining the shore. 

What exactly is it about this race that we find so thrilling? The roar of the engines? The energy of the crowd? The speed reached as the boats flash by in a blur? Could it be the inherent danger the competitors face, the risk that something bad will happen? 

souther80shishotDANGER IS PART OF RACING 

Racing, no matter the vehicle, bears similar risk. All have the potential for epic failure in spectacular fashion and for many, it's why they tune in. Typical of our media today, enhanced focus is placed upon unfortunate incidents that occur at these events. 

Think of the last car race you watched. You needn't even have been there to watch the actual race if you watch any kind of sports reporting. If there was a wreck at any race, anywhere, how many angles did you see the particulars of that wreck occur from? Event cameras, cameras inside the vehicle or carried by the driver, cell phones wielded by fans in the stands, more and more are added all the time with the goal of capturing significant moments when they happen. 

It's a mutually accepted exploitation of the dichotomy of human nature. While most would never wish a spectacular wreck on anyone, we can't look away when they happen. In fact, we seem to relish the opportunity to see the tragedy from every conceivable angle and reporters on scene will even confront survivors with obvious questions like "How do you feel?" when we already know the answer. Perhaps we somehow feel we're sharing their tragedy by having them voice their response. 

Sensational journalism has been around since there were publications marketed to the public, as a means to attract readers, so it's only natural that these types of events would attract reporters on stand-by hoping for the next sensational story that will set them apart from their peers. Sometimes, on a beautiful day with perfect conditions, the roar of the crowd and excitement in the air, they get exactly what they were hoping for. 


While we accept the danger exists, is there anything in human nature that would demand they stop racing?! Do fans feel concern for their racing heroes and petition for the races to end? Are drivers forced to compete against their will for the entertainment of the masses? Furthermore, do they feel there is more that could be done to keep them safe? 

Of course not. Most racers would argue it's their right to compete as they see fit, danger aside. They are fully aware of the risks involved and continually strive to improve their odds through various precautions in whatever area seems prudent. Vehicles are made safer, tracks are made safer, race-wear is enhanced to protect the driver more effectively, crowds are managed, and inspections and safety regulations have been put in place to maximize the chances participants survive to race another day. 


On February 11, 2017 we once again witnessed a tragedy, this time on the water during the epic race, the Southern 80, resulting in the 6th death at the event in 30 years. 4 other people were injured during the race as well. While the incidents are still under investigation, all agree the participants were highly-respected, experienced drivers involved with ski racing for many years. Initial reports indicate the boat of the man who died hit an air pocket, flipping his boat and flinging the driver from the seat of his speedboat and into the water. 

During the race, boats and skiers can reach speeds in excess of 200 kilometers per hour, speeds sure to result in tragedy if anything goes wrong. A driver expelled from their boat and hitting the water at those speeds will suffer major injury, if not death, despite any safety precautions in place. 


With this most recent incident the calls to end this race have reignited, citing the deaths and numerous accidents proved the event too dangerous. One of the Murray River area's most popular tourist attractions with more than 500 entrants from around the world, the Southern 80 has run since 1965. Despite the deaths at the event in 1987, 2006, 2007, 2010, and now 2017 of a total of 6 individuals, organizers and officials strongly believe safety procedures are adequate and continue to ensure they are of the highest standard, working with Ski Racing Australia and police and emergency services as they review the incidents to see if there are areas where safety standards could be enhanced. 

Should the race be cancelled, deemed too dangerous to continue? In comparison, consider the number of accidents resulting in death in other types of racing. For example, more than 520 deaths have occured in the last 25 years of auto racing. Has there been a huge outcry to end auto racing? Would you support it if there was one? 

Ask yourself, if it was cancelled, would they stop racing? Moreover, would spectators stop watching? Where would the safety standards and precautionary measures be without regulation and policing events to ensure participants are kept as safe as possible? Would there still be emergency medical personnel on-site if the races went underground? It's almost too much to comprehend but racing of all kinds is safer in the sun. 

Putting aside how the financial devastation the loss of associated revenue generated by these events would impact the communities in which events are held, without organization and safety standards, injuries and death would still inevitably occur and would perhaps even be exacerbated. 

Races were organized to create safe environments for these adrenaline-fueled individuals with a love for high speed competition and for those that love to watch. Canceling races wouldn't stop the races and certainly not the injuries, but would send them back to their roots, racing what they could, where they could, as often as they could, for the love of the race.

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