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Belgian race organisers split on whether fans should pay to watch

Smaller races lean towards charging spectators - but fans are overwhelmingly opposed to the idea

Organisers of half of the leading cycling races in Belgium believe it is inevitable that spectators will have to pay to watch their favourite riders – but more than two in three fans are opposed to the idea.

That’s the finding of a survey from Het Niuewsblad, with the season-opening race it sponsors – previously called the Omloop Het Volk, and changed in 2009 after the newspapers merged – kicking off the cobbled classics campaign this Saturday.

Het Niewsblad says that one in two of the organisers it surveyed agree that it is “inevitable that the public will also have to pay” to watch races.

However, the newspaper adds that organisers of the biggest events, such as Flanders Classics who own the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad among others, and KWC Hand in Hand, who put on the E3 Harelbeke, do not agree that charging is inevitable.

Instead, they say that races should “remain accessible for everyone,” but as Het Nieuwsblad points out, when it comes to smaller events, where budgets are stretched, the idea of charging spectators has much more appeal.

Belgium now has seven races in the expanded UCI WorldTour – besides the four mentioned above, the others are the Dwaars Door Vlaanderen, also owned by Flanders Classics, and the Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne- Liege, both of which are organised by Tour de France owners ASO.

There’s no way of knowing which races have organisers who are in favour of charging fans, but Belgium currently has around 50 men’s races that full under either the UCI WorldTour or Europe Tour.

Our suspicion would be that it is ones that do not have the same level of media coverage as the bigger events, and ones not specifically mentioned as having owners opposed to the move include the Three Days of De Panne and Le Samyn, both of which form part of the UCI Europe Tour.

The newspaper has also polled fans on the issue, and they are against the idea of paying by a margin of more than two to one.

At the time of writing, 70 per cent are against the idea, 26 per cent would agree to pay for access to certain parts of the course, and just 3 per cent would be willing to pay to access the race at all – although it’s difficult to see how the latter might work in practice.

Back in 2012, organisers of the London Olympic Games charged £15 for fans to watch the road races on Box Hill in Surrey, motivated in part by the aim of limiting numbers on the National Trust-owned beauty spot.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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