£12m expected to be lost from economy
Northern Ireland's Covid-hit economy has been dealt a further £12m blow with the cancellation of the crowd-pulling North West 200 road races for a second successive year.
The event annually attracts upwards of 80,000 bike fans and tourists to the north coast for race week each May over the Portrush-Portstewart-Coleraine triangle circuit.
But with lockdown fears continuing and uncertainty over a return to normality, organisers have reluctantly taken the decision to abandon the globally televised event yet again.
A contingency plan to run in August was ruled out, with top teams and riders involved in other racing series at that time.
The decision places a question mark over the immediate future of the sport of road racing in Northern Ireland generally and its biggest event, the North West, in particular.
It also deals a severe body blow to the economy for a second year running, with official figures showing the North West annually generates £12m in revenue across the already hard-hit hospitality and tourism industry.
Many hotels and guesthouses had already taken advance bookings from travelling fans, while north coast shops, bars and restaurants had been looking forward to a much-needed cash influx after a year of restrictions.
This will be the first time since the Second World War that the races have been cancelled two years running.
In a statement explaining their decision, the organising Coleraine and District Motor Club said: "The official advice from government and public health officials has made it clear the effects of coronavirus will remain with us for some considerable time to come, despite the rollout of the vaccination programme. In those circumstances, and after much consideration, the club committee feels it would be impossible to run this year's event.
"A contingency plan that involved delaying race week from May until August has been given full consideration.
"However, with so much time, expense and personnel involved in the planning and preparation of the NW200, the risk in pursuing such a plan is too great because of continued uncertainty around both the effects of the virus on our community and the extent of the restrictions aimed at suppressing it.
"The Coleraine Club's main priority must be to ensure the safety and wellbeing of not only those involved in the event, but also the residents of the north coast area and further afield.
"It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the organisers to limit the number of people who travel to the area during race week, which, in turn, could pose a significant risk to the local population. That is a situation that cannot be contemplated.
"Although extremely disappointing, the decision to cancel the NW200 for the second year in a row is the only responsible course of action the Coleraine Club can take. We would like to offer our sincere thanks to all of our loyal sponsors, officials and volunteers for their understanding and support.
"We also apologise for any inconvenience caused by the cancellation and hope that this timely intervention can assist the teams and competitors who would normally take part in our event in making alternative plans.
"The Coleraine and District Motor Club would also like to thank everyone who has supported us by retaining their bookings through this difficult period."
The club said provisional dates of May 8 to 14, 2022, had been allocated for "what we hope will be the return of race week at Ireland's largest motorcycle sporting event".
One consolation for organisers and fans is knowing that the North West has twice bounced back stronger from cancellations in the recent past - due to the Troubles in 1972 and foot and mouth disease in 2001.