Northern Ireland

Lifeline for motorcycle events as organisers vow to raise cash for crippling insurance costs

All road motorcycle racing in Northern Ireland was cancelled this year over rising insurance costs. Pictured, Michael Dunlop competing in the North West 200 in 2019. Photot by Margaret McLaughlin.
All road motorcycle racing in Northern Ireland was cancelled this year over rising insurance costs. Pictured, Michael Dunlop competing in the North West 200 in 2019. Photot by Margaret McLaughlin.

MOTORCYCLE road racing in Northern Ireland has been handed a lifeline after organisers cancelled all events over crippling insurance costs.

Shockwaves were sent through the racing community yesterday morning when the Motorcycle Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre) said the events were being called off as public liability costs had tripled.

The cancelled events were to include the North West 200, Tandragee 100, Cookstown 100, Armoy Race of Legends, Ulster Grand Prix, Sunflower Trophy, USBK Championship and all trials.

By the afternoon, hope emerged as the organisers of the North West 200 issued a statement to say they still  planned to stage the flagship event in May.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the messages of support we have received today and whilst we understand the decision taken by the MCUI, the Coleraine and District Motor club will continue in its efforts to stage the NW200 on May 7-13,” it said.

This was quickly followed by an updated statement from the MCUI, which said it was now staging a rescue plan for the 2023 race events.

Although members had voted for the cancellation over the insurance hikes, they added that it was also unaffordable to cancel the events.

Chairman John Dillon said board members were now “urgently pursuing a series of options and sources including the launch of a crowdfunding campaign”.

He explained that insurance costs had increased from £170,000 in 2022 to £410,000 in 2023.

While clubs are now prepared to pay for some of the increase through additional sponsorship and higher entry fees, Mr Dillon said a shortfall of £200,000 was still likely.

In addition, he said a £300,000 excess charge had been added, meaning the MCUI would ultimately need to raise £500,000 in the short term.

“If racing doesn’t take place in 2023, not only will it be nearly impossible to bring it back in 2024, we will also lose the new riders coming through the ranks,” he said.

“There has been a groundswell of support from across all sections of the media and it is clear that we have the support of all race fans, making the option of crowdfunding a real option to save our sport.”

Cancelling this year’s events, he added, would also increase pressure on the MCUI to provide licences and insurance for existing riders to compete in the UK and abroad.

“Motorcycle racing, especially road racing, is unique on the island of Ireland,” Mr Dillon said.

“It is part of our culture and heritage and we’ve been racing on roads for over 100 years.”

He noted that Northern Ireland riders continued to punch above their weight, with many world champions emerging over the years from the likes of the late Joey Dunlop and more recently Jonathan Rea.

Earlier, UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt called for an urgent intervention to save this year’s events.

“If you think of the level of support the executive has previously offered to secure the likes of the Giro cycling race or The Open golf, there is a clear argument for financial support for road racing,” he said.

“I understand last year’s North West 200 pumped £17.4 million into the local economy – 110,000 visited the races on the Saturday alone, nearly a quarter of visitors were from out of state, creating nearly 65,000 bed nights. 

“This is another compelling reason to get Stormont back up and running.”

DUP MLA Stephen Dunne said cancelling the races would be “a devastating blow” for the local economy.

“These events are much more than exciting competitive sporting events, they are significant economic drivers that attract visitors from across the world every year, bringing a boost to the local economy,” he said.

“Every effort must be made to see if a solution can be found, and I will be working with colleagues and event organisers. 

“We cannot afford to lose these great events, which have helped put Northern Ireland on the map, and showcase our country to the world.”

He said the organisation would continue to find options for public liability insurance.

"We appreciate that this situation is far from ideal, however although we have been unable to secure the running of events for this year, this arrangement and decision will go a little way to at least allowing licence holders the opportunity to engage in competitive events, should they wish, with the appropriate cover and security."

The MCUI (UC) is responsible for issuing licenses to Northern Ireland racers, which will allow them to compete in races in the UK and elsewhere.