Saturday, April 20, 2024

Gotland Grand National losing Tofta site amid Swedish Army activity

The Gotland Grand National prides itself in being the largest enduro competition in the world with thousands of bikes taking part, but that status means little as far as national security is concerned. The race’s fortieth edition, scheduled for 27–29 October, is set to be the final one at the Tofta shooting range as the Swedish Armed Forces needs it for their own purposes.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine raging nearby, Europe’s militaries have ramped up their activity in response, forcing installations to readjust their usual schedules that otherwise had civilian events. In Tofta’s case, the lease for the land that the Swedish Fortifications Agency provided to GGN organiser Nordic Sport Event was not approved by the military beyond 2023. Even the October date was only being reached at the last minute after what NSE’s Conny Bohlin called a “constructive dialogue [through which] we found a solution that works for both parties. However, we must immediately begin the search for a new competition area.”

Sweden long maintained a doctrine of neutrality until the ongoing war in Ukraine prompted an increase in defence spending and applying for NATO membership. Gotland was even demilitarised in 2005 as part of a drawdown before activity resumed a decade later following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

While its NATO accession bid remains in Turkey and Hungary’s court, Sweden has conducted training exercises with NATO members and its Nordic neighbours in the meantime. From April to May, Sweden hosted Aurora 23, its largest military drill in three decades alongside twelve NATO nations and non-alliance states Austria and Ukraine. Last week, the Swedish Amphibious Corps and United States Marine Corps concluded the ten-day Archipelago Endeavor 23 in Berga.

Gotland is a critical military position due to its location in the Baltic Sea. The island was among the sites used for Aurora 23.

“Tofta firing range is an absolutely crucial location for the Armed Forces to be able to carry out its mission to ensure peace and security in Sweden in an increasingly uncertain environment,” said Tomas Ängshammar, communications manager for the Gotland Regiment (P 18). “We are greatly increasing conscript training on Gotland, while at the same time we have employed soldiers, visiting mainland units, and probably an increasing number of visiting NATO units.

“GGN is close to our hearts at P 18 and we hope that the organiser can quickly find a new home. We know what GGN means to Gotland, but the Swedish Armed Forces’ mission is to build defence capabilities.”

In searching for a new site, an Instagram post by Bohlin stressed the importance of keeping the GGN on Gotland as “we absolutely do not want” to relocate to the mainland approximately ninety kilometres away. Although recognising the island’s strategic value, he hopes the county government and businesses could assist in finding a new host, especially as new infrastructure would need to be built within thirteen months in order for the 2024 race to take place on time.

The GGN was first held in 1984 in partnership between the Frivilliga Motorcykelkåren (FCMK) and GMF Bysarna motorcycle clubs, with members of the Gotland Regiment giving their blessing. In the four decades since, the race has become an iconic enduro event that also featured on the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship.

Motorsport on military bases is not an unusual sight, and such races since 2022 have been impacted by the Russo-Ukrainian War and heightened global tensions. The Italian Army’s demands indirectly contributed to Extreme E’s current doubleheader format as their exercises on the Capo Teluda training area in Sardinia forced the 2022 Island X Prix to be moved to the summer, and the cancellation of the Ocean X Prix prompted Sardinia to take over that slot to create back-to-back rounds which became the norm for all events from 2023 onwards. The Rallye Breslau is run on the training ground in Drawsko Pomorskie, where the Polish military’s increasing readiness with the war next door has forced officials to change the race itinerary and even the course mid-event in both 2022 and 2023 to accommodate sudden developments.