The hard-pressed Northern Ireland economy has been dealt a further £12m coronavirus blow with the cancellation of the crowd-pulling North West 200 road races for 2020.
Today would have been the start of Race Week on the north coast with upwards of 80,000 bike fans and tourists due to descend on the Portrush-Portstewart-Coleraine triangle for practice and racing tomorrow, Thursday and Saturday with a full programme of support events planned daily across the area.
But an initial postponement in March, with hopes to reschedule in September, has now become a complete cancellation with new dates set for May 9-15 next year.
This morning’s confirmation from the Coleraine and District Motor Club that the North West will not run this year means a massive financial loss for the organisers with a domino effect hitting the north coast and overall Northern Ireland tourist economy.
Official figures show the North West annually generates £12m in revenue across the already hard hit hospitality and tourism industry.
We hope everyone stays safe and well so we can return to an even bigger and better North West 200 12 months from now.
But “devastated” race chief Mervyn Whyte accepted event organisers had no choice but to abort amid the current pandemic crisis. Whyte said: “I am absolutely gutted and devastated at having to cancel this year’s North West 200. A massive amount of work goes into the event all year round and this has been completely wiped out.
“But we have to act responsibly under the present conditions. All we can do is work to produce a bigger and better event in 2021 and hope everyone stays safe and well.”
Top rider and multiple North West winner, Glenn Irwin, from Carrick, shared the disappointment with his 25,000 Twitter followers, saying: “The paddock would have been filling, I would have been cruising up the road, potentially in a Honda NSX, set up for my favourite week of the year, the holiday vibe, the childhood memories, the local supporters. The North West 200 feels like my back garden.”
Hopes of racing sometime this year have been dashed by this morning’s statement, which reads: “On March 17, Coleraine and District Motor Club announced the 2020 fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200, scheduled for May 10-16, would be postponed following the government’s introduction of restrictions to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Since March the organisers of the NW200 have been in consultation with all of the relevant agencies to explore the possibility of running the event at a later date during 2020.
“We have corresponded with officials from the NI Executive as well as Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council plus all of the NW200’s stakeholders, considering every option available to us should there be a suitable window of opportunity.
“Despite these efforts, it is now obvious the disruption and uncertainty the virus will continue to place on all of our lives and activities in the coming months will make it impossible to deliver the extensive planning required to run an event on the scale of the North West 200.
“That being the case, Coleraine and District Motor Club have taken the unfortunate but responsible and necessary decision to cancel the 2020 races. We apologise for any inconvenience this will cause for our competitors, volunteers and race fans.
“A provisional date for the 2021 fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils NW200 Race Week Festival has already been set for May 9-15. We hope everyone stays safe and well so we can return to an even bigger and better North West 200 12 months from now.”
A consolation for them is knowing that the North West has twice bounced back stronger from cancellations in the recent past… due to the Troubles in 1972 and the Foot and Mouth agricultural disease outbreak in 2001.