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North West 200: Race director Mervyn Whyte calls for sport funding equality

By Jim Gracey

Frustrated North West 200 race chief Mervyn Whyte has called on government here to provide the same level of support for the 88-year-old speed spectacular as lavished on occasional marquee events.

Whyte heads up Ireland’s biggest attended sporting spectacle, taking place this week and attracting up to 85,000 fans from home and abroad over race week and over 50,000 on Saturday’s race day with a worldwide TV audience of 800million.

Audited figures show the North West to be worth £4.5m in tourism revenue to the local area, and £10.3 million to the wider Northern Ireland economy  

But Whyte looks on in envy as the North West struggles to break even financially while vast sums are pumped into events that take place only every few years with no guarantee of longevity.

In that bracket are The Open and Irish Open golf tournaments, being staged in Portrush and Portstewart, in 2019 and this summer respectively, and the returning Giro d’Italia cycle race this month after a break of three years from its first appearance.

The North West is a poor relation, comparatively in terms of government cash support, and Whyte made clear: “I don’t, for a minute, begrudge those events, and others like them, their funding. They are brilliant events, worthy of government financial support, and I’ll likely attend all of them.

“But they are once in a while attractions. I would just like to see a parity of esteem for our own established events like the North West and Ulster Grand Prix and a similar level of funding.”

Whyte added of the North West: “We have been running for a generation and will continue to do so while other events come and go.”

And he revealed: “It costs £800,000 to run the North West. That figure includes £230,000 start and prize money for riders and a £36,000 insurance premium.

“We are grateful for the aid we get from government which allowed us to put in place additional safety measures this year.

“But looking at the amounts other events receive in comparison, we are lagging behind.

“All we ask is a level playing field and to be judged in terms of what we put back in return which is a substantial amount.

“We are non-profit making so every penny goes back into improving the event for the benefit of riders and spectators.

“We are indebted to our headline sponsor Vauxhall, our local Causeway Coast and Glens council, Tourism NI, individual race sponsors and local business whose support is increasing.

“But a level of government support in keeping with the investment in equally worthy but occasional events would go a long way towards securing the future of the North West.” 

Practice resumes tomorrow morning on the north coast with roads closing from 9.15am until 3.00pm, followed by three night  races, Supersport, Superstock and Supertwin, with roads closed from 5.00pm until 9.00pm.

On Race Day Saturday, roads close from 9.15am until racing is complete, starting with the Supersport race (6 laps) at 10.15am, followed by Superbike 1 (7 laps), Supertwin (4 laps), Superbike 2 (7 laps) and Superstock (6 laps).

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