North West 200 at risk without additional funding, warns…

The North West 200 road race will not go ahead next year without funding and support to secure its future, according to race chief Mervyn Whyte.

Considered one of the most important road races in the world and the warm-up to the Isle of Man TT which traditionally starts a fortnight later, the North West 200 – Ireland’s biggest outdoor sporting event du Nord – faces a lack of funding to fulfill key roles, improve facilities and ensure maintenance.

Appealing to the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Whyte says the event is ‘at a crossroads’ and may not take place at all in 2023 unless he can secure additional funding to complete the tasks required.

“What we are offering is an extension of the current partnership with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council,” Whyte said.

“Without it, and it’s not a threat in any way, but the North West 200 is at a crossroads and we may not be able to run the event in 2023.

“Staff who were key to the new leadership succession plan have left, an aging Motor Club membership has caught up with us and we need new people to drive the event forward.

“We have lost our Course Construction Manager who after many, many years resigned mainly for health reasons, as well as some of the other key members of our club.

“A small allocation of office space is also required and we need to support and recruit an event manager to support the development of the event and plan for the next five to 10 years.”

Citing examples of other high-profile annual events – such as the TT, Glastonbury Music Festival and Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade – Whyte urged the council to seize the opportunity to invest in the future of the North West 200 looking back at its success over the years.

“I’m really talking about securing the success of the past, for the future,” he said.

“The North West 200 is like any entity – it needs to be cultivated and managed. This borough is the jewel in the crown of Northern Ireland and the North West 200 is the crown jewel of NI’s annual events .

“When we look at other world-class events near us – when you look at Glastonbury, the Isle of Man TT, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin – all of them have changed and evolved over the years, and have been developed and invested (in) both commercially and publicly over the past 10 years.

“That’s really what sets them apart and makes them must-attend events for the future. The NW200 can be on the same trajectory if we develop our partnership.

“That is not possible with the existing team – it has become too big for Coleraine and District Motor Club.

“I appreciate all the in-kind support over the years, but we are waiting for the Council to join us and help us build the course, and we need financial support and an event manager. “

Despite the dire warning, the North West 200 appeal won strong support from political circles, including DUP MP for North Antrim Ian Paisley, who said losing the event would cost £12m the local economy.

“It cannot be lost. We can’t let him go,’ he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“The permanent secretaries of [government] departments are good at details.

“If they don’t [do something]another great opportunity [for] Northern Ireland will wither on the vine.

The North West 200, which returned from a two-year hiatus caused by COVID in May, was dominated by local hero Glenn Irwin in Superbike racing.

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