North West 200 cash plea: Stormont should back our biggest event, says race director
The head of Northern Ireland's biggest outdoor event, the North West 200 motorcycle races, says he believes the global attraction has been taken for granted by Stormont politicians.
The annual road race meeting attracts more than 100,000 spectators and a television audience of millions.
It also generates £9m for the Northern Ireland economy.
Currently just £120,000 of public funding is provided towards the £900,000 cost of staging the North West - a fraction of the funds given to one-off events such as the World Police and Fire Games and Open golf competition.
While North West 200 event director Mervyn Whyte said he enjoyed a good relationship with DETI and tourism chiefs, he felt politicians had previously paid lip-service to the festival of road racing.
Regarding the future of the North West 200, which has been running since 1929, Mr Whyte said: "The event runs annually and it's not really giving us much money to go on. We bring in what we spend and that's it.
"We would like more money. I would like more to spend on safety improvements but I just don't have the money. Simple as that.
"I have appealed to government around that to give us more for safety bales, pole protectors and kerb protectors, things like that. Those could be used for all road races in Northern Ireland, but unfortunately in the present climate with all the cuts that's not possible."
In a wide-ranging interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Whyte (below) revealed he contemplated walking away from his position after the death of rider Simon Andrews last year.
And he would not rule out Sunday racing in the future if weather conditions prevented Friday and Saturday races.
Following two disastrous years out of three when the race schedule was decimated due to atrocious weather, Mr Whyte campaigned to have road closure legislation altered to allow a shift.
Opponents feared the law change was Sunday racing by stealth. "This was never about Sunday racing," he said.
"It was giving the flexibility.
"We have the flexibility at present to run from 9.30am on a Sunday through to 1.30pm. Hopefully we'll never have to use it but the legislation is there that if it's a disastrous day at some stage, it could be used. It's not our intention to use it. Our intention is that unless on a Friday weather conditions are so severe we can't run on a Friday, as a very, very last resort we would go into a Sunday. We want to cause the least amount of annoyance to residents and the churches."