Rising insurance costs have been an issue across all of Ireland in recent years, but have mainly affected the smaller road racing events.
However, in a hammer blow to the sport of motorcycle racing in Northern Ireland, all events including the country’s largest outdoor sporting meeting, the North West 200 have had to be called off for 2023. It was reported the North West 200 contributed £17m to the local economy last year.
In a statement released by the MCUI, it says the cost of public liability insurance has become unsustainable for event organisers and clubs, with a BBC report suggesting a figure of over £400,000 having been quoted which would have seen costs triple.
Road racing has survived over 100 years in Northern Ireland, but funding issues have become more prominent, with the Ulster Grand Prix the most notable race to have been affected since a poorly-attended 2019 event.
A statement from Motorcycling Ireland also highlighted Brexit, which Northern Ireland voted against in the 2016 referendum, as a major contributing factor to the bleak situation surrounding insurance costs.
“The end of 2021 when we scheduled our annual meeting with our broker, [we learned] that [they] would no longer be able to deal with us due to Brexit,” the statement read.
“They did send our details on to another broker, who took us on.
“Last October 2022, we received an email from our new broker saying insurance company Allianz, who we have been covered with for years, would no longer insure us as they were no longer covering motorsport, and they have reached out to other companies but that no one would take us on.”
The statement added that Motorcycling Ireland’s old broker has put it in contact with three others, and they are currently “trying to persuade insurance companies to take us on”.
The MCUI says it will continue to seek public liability insurance this year and will continue to issue licenses to competitors so that they can compete in other events.
However, there will be no road racing or short circuit racing held in Northern Ireland this year.
This will come as a blow to competitors of the Isle of Man TT, who have traditionally used the North West 200 as a warm-up to the TT.
The already fragile future for motorcycle road racing in Northern Ireland looks even bleaker in the wake of this latest setback.
Part of the problem is the fact that road racing is a sport in which spectators can view for free – though the Ulster GP was propped up by a piece of government legislation that deemed anyone entering the circuit confines during road closure times had to pay to be there.
Former racer and multiple TT winner Phillip McCallen told BBC Radio Ulster that the attitude around road racing being a free-to-view sport has to change if it is to have a future.
“It’s an absolute disaster,” McCallen, who is a director of the Revival Racing Motorcycle Club which took over running the North West 200, said. “The general public have had free racing and free viewing for 50 years and some people expect that to continue but it can’t.
“You don’t go to Windsor Park and get in for nothing, so you shouldn’t have free spectating at the North West 200, for example.
“It’s about how we get that money from people into the organisation.”
The North West 200 was already facing an uncertain future after the 2022 event, with former NW200 race director Mervyn Whyte saying last year that the Colerain and District Motor Club needed additional funding support from Tourism NI or it could face a situation where “we may not run the event” in the future.
Last October, the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council put a decision to provide more funding for the 2023 North West 200 on hold. The increase in funding was expected to be around £96,000 to bring total contributions up to £275,000.