Racing Pride

Spotlight: Mat Oxley and Simon Patterson discuss MotoGP

For the first Racing Pride Spotlight article of 2024, Shayni Solanki had a chat with respected MotoGP journalists Mat Oxley and Simon Patterson. Recently, some fans and paddock insiders have been calling for wider changes in motorcycle racing after two incidents which many considered to have revealed latent homophobic attitudes within the sport’s ecosystem.

One of the big voices in this discussion is Mat Oxley, a former racer who has been writing about the sport for decades. He published an open letter to Dorna, the commercial rights holder of MotoGP, in hope of encouraging more conversation and action to work on becoming an open-minded and welcoming sport for all, including the LGBTQ+ community.

Over the Christmas break, the 2021 MotoGP world champion Fabio Quartararo posted a picture with a male friend, Ethan Doux. Most would think it’s just a picture of two friends, but to the shock of many, people spat homophobic abuse at Quartararo online. So much so that he deleted the picture from X and restricted the comments on his Instagram.

Oxley said: “It’s always been in the back of my mind and what really changed it was what happened to Fabio Quartararo for posting that picture with another man. He suffered a huge amount of homophobic abuse online.

“It’s not nice being abused on social media and it’s no different to being abused in the street. You know, the words hit you and hurt you and some people are better at coping with others.”

“No one in the paddock came up to support him publicly. And it is important to support people publicly because that’s the way you make people think about what they’re saying. If you’re walking down the street with someone and somebody’s shouting homophobic abuse at your friend, you should do something about it.”

When it comes to homophobia and racism, a lot of different sports have made it clear that it’s unacceptable for fans and spectators to behave that way. That’s the first step in pushing MotoGP to the next level in becoming an open and inclusive environment, according to Oxley.

He continued: “Whether it be football or Formula 1, they’ve done and are still doing things to make it clear to people that those who are homophobic, transphobic, sexist, or racist won’t be tolerated. If a football player gets racist abuse on the pitch, which sadly does happen still quite a bit, the club or the team do something about it.”

Oxley is eager to emphasis that it’s not like MotoGP is stuck in the dark ages; as a sport it’s come quite far. It could be the case, though, that its cultural evolution is lagging behind other sports. People aren’t asking for an overnight shift, but those such as Oxley and other allies within the paddock want to see the foundations for change being laid.

“There is generally a trigger for things to change, when you see an opportunity to make the change, just take it. Let’s get a move on, you know and do something about it, there’s no losers in making things better.”

“I’ve been in the paddock for 37 years. There was a lot of racism and homophobia a long time ago, and it was fairly open. Decades ago, there were barely any women in the paddock. There are a lot more women in the paddock now, partly helped by there being more types of jobs you can do.

“But there is sexism in the paddock, like in the rest of the world. It needs to be a full complete package instead of focusing on one form of hatred or discrimination. It’s the whole lot of them bound together.”

MotoGP is clearly heading towards a change, it just needs to be catalysed. Simon Patterson is a hopeful supporter of this ongoing conversation. Simon is a MotoGP correspondent and has been a fan of the sport for as long as he can remember. Throughout his career, especially now that social media is the phenomenon we know today, Simon has faced abuse from ‘fans’.

Patterson said: “I spend a lot of time on social media. You see open racism, open homophobia, open xenophobia directed towards everyone. I get called things all the time, because I’m Irish, we get all sorts of abuse off that. People have started rumours that I’m gay because they don’t like me, and they think that being gay is a slur.

“People are now able to be really offensive online, because they can sit anonymously on social media you can get away with saying things like this. 15 years ago, you would have had to say it to someone’s face.”

This sort of online abuse isn’t just directed to drivers in MotoGP as we can see, it can be directed to everyone. A handful of people asking for change hasn’t really proved to be fruitful according to Patterson because there’s just so much to tackle.

To create a more open-minded environment, he thinks that everyone will have to pitch in alongside drawing on guidance from those with experience of creating change. He certainly thinks that, while this process won’t be instant or easy, it will be in the long-term interests of the sport.

“The issue is that the fans who want the sport to stay the same, there’s less and less of them watching every year.”

“I think the bigger problem is maybe how as a sport we’re not moving rather than as a workplace. There are people that are open to having that conversation though, which is good. But there’s a lot that we could be doing that we’re not.

“We’ve kind of been stuck in a little loop of trying to hold on to a diminishing group of fans, it would be nice to see that shook up a little bit to see a bit of fresh blood injected into it. The important thing that we need to do now is to break the mould a little bit. We need to make people from a non-traditional background more aware that Moto GP exists and get them on bikes when they’re young.”

Although fans rightly want to preserve the essence of MotoGP, and there’s certainly much to be said for its rich and exciting heritage, an unwillingness to evolve culturally and blend this unique history with progress could end up hurting the sport. People are growing to want more from sport as a whole; spectators want to feel both represented and safe. It’s never been right to spew homophobic and discriminatory abuse in the paddock, but soon it could become detrimental to the sport if progress isn’t made.

Patterson reflected: “I’m glad that there’s light voices calling for change, and I try to be one of them, but I’m also aware that me shouting locally isn’t going to create instant overnight change. But if we keep up a constant background noise, hopefully it helps those things along at some stage.

“Calling for change to happen tomorrow, knowing that it’s going to take five years is hard, but also knowing that if we don’t call for it to happen tomorrow, it might take 10 years.”

“I do think that there is progress coming. And it’s just balancing that desire to see it happening right away versus knowing that it’s going to take a bit longer than that to actually happen.”

Racing Pride wants to thank Mat Oxley and Simon Patterson for taking time out of their hectic schedules to chat to us. Make sure to check out their work and continue to support their voices in driving change. Follow them on X: Simon’s handle is @denkmit and Mat’s is @matoxley.

Check out our interview with decorated motocross rider Stefy Bau. Read more about Bau’s journey from collecting seven Italian Championships, three US national titles, and three Women’s World Championship titles to co-founding Init Esports, an esports agency with a focus on diversity and inclusion.

Author: Shayni Solanki