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North West 200 has come back stronger in past, says chief Whyte

 

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Right call: Mervyn Whyte

Right call: Mervyn Whyte

Alastair Seeley at last year’s NW200

Alastair Seeley at last year’s NW200

Right call: Mervyn Whyte

Motorcycle sport is in lockdown following yesterday's official confirmation that the 2020 fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 has been postponed amid the growing concerns and restrictions around the coronavirus outbreak.

The Motorcycle Racing Association (Ireland) Ltd have also suspended all their off-road activities indefinitely, amid uncertainty as to when - or if - events can restart this season given the gloomy forecasts as to when the pandemic will peak in the UK and Ireland.

For the local North West community, the axing of May's event will be an economic blow with impact studies intimating a loss in the region of £12m to the area.

The decision was taken based on government and public health advice and guidance on mass gatherings and their revelation that it would be impossible to provide medical cover for events as all resources are being directed towards the NHS as it battles with the containment of the Covid-19 infection.

The public have also been asked to play their part by acting responsibly and doing all that is possible to protect everyone from the threat of this deadly virus.

In 2001, the North West was cancelled due to the foot and mouth outbreak from which the event bounced back, but coronavirus is a more severe threat.

Race director Mervyn Whyte told the Belfast Telegraph: "We had a duty of concern back then to the farming community around the track, whose goodwill we depended on.

"It was the right thing to do and a blessing in disguise that the event was cancelled, as we quickly realised the North West could no longer just be about racing; that it had become an event."

People still came in their thousands in 2001 to what morphed into today's Race Week Festival thanks to financial input from government and local council.

Whyte continued: "We increased our hospitality to what it is today, installed new grandstands, erected big screens for fans to follow the action all around the course and we tarmacked the paddock area all to benefit riders, teams, spectators and sponsors.

"We later introduced Thursday evening racing and every evening there were family events going on all around the Triangle area. This all helped bring in visitors and revenue."

Unlike 2001, however, this year there will be no Festival, no racing and no large crowds gathering, so therefore no income for organisers and local businesses.

"Again, it's the right decision," Whyte said yesterday.

"We have been in constant contact and will remain in discussion with all the relevant bodies with our paramount desire being to act responsibly and do all we can to protect everyone from the threat of this virus."

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, a huge motorcycling fan, is keen that elected representatives do what they can to help.

"This will be a blow to the local community. In fact, the local economy faces a £12m loss in turnover as a result that will be impossible to replace," he explained. "I've already asked the government to provide rate and VAT relief as well as other measures to help the local economy."

This, of course, affects all cancelled or postponed events and many eyes will be on whether Stormont will step in to compensate all these events and communities across the board so they simply will not disappear.

One event that may be breathing a sigh of relief at all the long-term postponements is the Ulster Grand Prix, which may now have a stay of execution and possibly a year's grace for the organising Dundrod and District Club to sort out its current financial predicament.

Meanwhile, the 2020 MotoGP season can be extended into 2021 to ensure a full completion amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The 2020 season has already been disrupted by the pandemic, with Qatar cancelled for the premier class and three others - Thailand, USA and Argentina - all postponed until the end of the season. It will make for a hurried conclusion to the year, with eight races in 10 weeks.

For MotoGP, the first race - as it stands - will be the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez on May 3.

However, tightening travel restrictions could yet see more changes.

With Championship promoter Dorna rescheduling races, the 2020 calendar is more provisional than definite - but with 13 races required to constitute a Championship, the fears of missing out on a full season loom in the background.

As such, FIA president Jorge Viegas said the sport's governing body are prepared to race into next year in order to complete a Championship season.

Belfast Telegraph