Northern Ireland’s hopes of hosting the British round of the 2022 World Rally Championship have been dealt a blow, with organisers understood to be concerned about the DUP’s threat to collapse Stormont.
The championship schedule, which is due to be released imminently by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), will list the Northern Ireland Rally as “TBA [to be announced]”.
This newspaper understands that if the issues regarding the protocol are resolved and assurances over the security of the Executive are given, the FIA will give the rally the green light for the proposed August date.
Established in 1973, the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) showcases high-performance cars and some of the world’s best drivers.
The last time Northern Ireland welcomed the series was in 2009, when it was a joint host with the Republic of Ireland.
Neither the DUP nor the FIA responded to requests for comment.
Northern Ireland Rally promoter and former Circuit of Ireland director Bobby Willis and DUP MP Ian Paisley have led the campaign to bring the British round of the WRC back to these shores in recent years.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson indicated in September he would pull his ministers out of the Executive if his demands on the protocol were not met.
As part of the Brexit agreement between the UK and the EU, the protocol was viewed as a way to maintain a free-flowing land border on the island of Ireland.
This resulted in a de-facto Irish Sea trade border, with many checks on goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, angering unionists.
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic is locked in negotiations with the Government to try and resolve the issues.
He held talks with Stormont parties on Thursday after revealing the EU had proposed to reduce spot checks at Northern Ireland’s ports by 80% and reduce customs paperwork by 50%.
The EU’s proposals do not meet the UK’s demand to remove the European Court of Justice from an oversight role.
Plans to stage the British round of the WRC in Northern Ireland in August of this year were abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
FIA Rallies Commission chief Yves Matton previously spoke positively about Northern Ireland hosting the WRC, as did past winners on local roads such as Toyota’s Elfyn Evans and Hyundai’s Craig Breen.
An online survey was launched by Northern Ireland Rally earlier this year to help gauge support for the British round being staged here next year, with a view to gathering information on how many people were likely to travel to see the event or take part.
The survey on the rally’s website aid: “Rally Northern Ireland is hoping to become the UK’s round of the FIA World Rally Championship in 2022.
“To help us achieve this, we are asking people to complete our survey to let us know if you would travel to Northern Ireland to watch the world’s greatest drivers take part in the world’s most exciting sport.”