DerbyWheel will enforce a phone-free ‘bubble’ during race meetings

Keirin in Japan and Korea is built on gambling. It is revenue derived from betting which pays the riders prize money, supports the velodromes, and feeds back into the community through charities and local government.

Spectator riots and organised crime involvement may be in the distant past. But riders are constantly reminded that the sport must not only be clean; it must also be seen to be clean. Even a perception of foul play could embolden keirin’s critics.

Insider information

In Japan, this leads to the strict enforcement of a ‘bubble’ around race meetings. Riders must surrender their mobile phones and car keys on arrival at the track, remaining within its confines for three days or more, cut off from the outside world lest they should share insider information which could be used to manipulate the betting markets.

In his book War On Wheels, Justin McCurry tells the story of Karin Okubo who, in 2018, left her mobile phone behind on the seat of her car outside the riders’ accommodation at the Kurume velodrome, in an area where all mobile gadgets are banned for the duration of the race meet.

McCurry suggests she could consider herself fortunate that her moment of absent-mindedness resulted in only a two month ban.

McCurry himself, when researching his book, was reminded to bring an old-fashioned digital camera with him: he would have to submit to a journalistic lockdown of his own.

Secure compound

Given its roots in Korea and Japan, and its need to appeal to audiences there, it’s no surprise that DerbyWheel will be applying similar measures. Similar, but to the likely relief of riders, not quite so harsh.

‘It’s not quite as bad as (having) your phone taken off you in the hotel.,’ James Pope told The Piste Take podcast. ‘But when all of the riders arrive at the race, they’ll go into this secure compound, they’ll hand over their phone then.

‘They won’t know their race information, their draw position, until they’re in that compound. So by removing that ability for anyone to communicate with the outside world, we’re reducing some of those risks as well.’

Additionally, use of SRM power meters will be mandatory, and any suggestion of deliberate underperformance will be investigated. Riders have been warned to give 100%, every race, all the way to the finish line.