The organiser of Ireland’s top road race has voiced his concern for the future of the sport following a 30% hike in the cost of insuring road racing here.
Mervyn Whyte, Event Director of the Vauxhall International North West 200, said he had ‘major concerns’ following the rise which will see the cost of insuring his event and the Ulster Grand Prix increase from £23,810 to £30,130, a 27% rise, this year.
Ironically, given the risk factor for competitors, the majority of insurance claims have been filed by spectators over trackside falls and minor injuries.
“There are now only a few companies interested in insuring road racing and the cost is soaring,” Whyte explained.
“I am sure some smaller races will struggle to meet these extra costs and it will have a major impact on the sport.
“At the North West we are going to be forced to tighten our belts at a time when we would like to be investing more money in our event.”
The situation is even more drastic for the five National road races run here. The Cookstown 100, Tandragee 100, Bush, Mid Antrim 150 and Armoy road races will face an increase of £3,455 from £12,315 to £15,770 this season. Events have also been hit by rider withdrawals through retirement and sponsorship losses.
“I attended the emergency meeting of the MCUI where we were informed of the price increase,” Bill Kennedy, Armoy's clerk of the course, said.
“We had no choice but accept this, our backs were against the wall. We tried to get an alternative quote but it was over £100,000 more expensive again.
“I think this will definitely lead to the demise of National road races in particular because every cost in organising a race is rising and something will have to give.”
The North West 200 has this year attracted much needed new title sponsorship from Vauxhall that will augment existing support from Coleraine Borough Council and individual sponsors.
Nevertheless, Whyte would like to see more support from the public purse to help secure the future of a unique part of the sporting culture of Northern Ireland
“The cost of organising the North West is escalating with this year’s event costing in the region of £800,000.
“At a recent meeting I was informed that the World Police and Fire Games, which will take place in Northern Ireland this year, will receive £6.8 million of Government money,” he pointed out.
“There will be £2.3 million for Londonderry as the European City of Culture and last year the Irish Open golf tournament got £1.5 million from the public purse.
“These are all good events but they are ‘one-offs’. We have been running a road race on the North coast every year since 1929, bringing a huge return to the economy of this area year upon year.
“In 2013 we are due to receive a total of £70,000 from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and although we are very grateful for all the support we get, we could do so much more if we had additional funding.”