By Robin Miller Bikesport News
Yesterday’s withdrawal of an £800,000 rescue package which has resulted in the cancellation of the Ulster Grand Prix may also have had a damaging effect on May’s North West 200, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
The headline ‘Lack of funding axes this year’s race and could spell the end of famous Dundrod meeting’[ was followed by “North West 200 also hit but is expected to be staged at a financial loss.”
But while this gloomy prognosis on the Ulster GP was shared by North West 200 boss Mervyn Whyte and an admission that it might put more pressure on the North West‘s finances, he was certain racing would be held on May 12 and 14.
He told bikesportnews: “It’s obviously very disappointing because the two events are major contributors to the economic value of Northern Island.
“It was approved by the two committees, economy and then finance, and then it came back to Tourist Board who manage the funds for larger events and they put as spanner in the works by telling us they had a maximum of £150,000 per event and they had no way of going beyond that.
And just when we were looking forward to reviving the Ulster, which had no money and having something for the North West.
“It’s a bit of a blow and a real setback but listen we’ll keep fighting on. We’re still full speed ahead for the North West.
“We’ve been working on it for the last six months and the funding would have been very nice to have but in the autumn we went through all the costs and we have made a number of reductions in order to keep our head above water because of the Covid times there was no money coming in.
“The ordinary racegoer will see no difference, we’ll still have our top class riders and teams in an entry which is as big as it has ever been.
“We’re not going to give up on the Ulster. It has a future but it needs money to kick it off. The officials of the old club have been very helpful and we’ll keep trying.
Is there any chance of some sort of compromise this year?
“Only if the TNI have second thoughts and I wouldn’t build up hopes. They have a number of large events and can go beyond the £150,000 if the business case is made but on this occasion they were told by their legal team that they couldn’t.
“We have major events here like golf at Royal Portrush and there’s something provided for them. The Ulster and the North West get world wide coverage and there needs to be a separate pot of money set aside for events like this where the government can say ‘Yes, we support it for these reasons.’
“We will continue to get round the table with them but right now we’re forging ahead and have riders coming over tomorrow, including some from Europe.”
But it has been a heartbreaking conclusion to the mission which North West boss Mervyn Whyte and 11 times TT winner Phillip McAllen set themselves to revive the Ulster Grand Prix, one of the greatest and certainly the fastest road races in the world, when it went bust last year owing £300,000.
It was rescued by persuading it’s creditors to take less money and the belief of Messrs Whyte and McAllen that life still existed and resurrection was possible. They formed the Revival Racing Motorcycle Club and began negotiations to persuade government departments that it was in their interests to rescue an event which would bring in thousands of visitors began.
It was not until Sunday night that they were told their efforts had failed, their disappointment made all the more bitter following assurances by two government departments, Economy and Finance, who endorsed their application.
It would have delivered the biggest investment in motorcycling ever seen in Northern Ireland. But it never saw the light of day, another government department, Tourism NI, saying: “It couldn’t justify the level of funding requested both on financial and legal grounds.”
A statement from the Revival Motorcycle Club thanked the departments which endorsed the application adding: “But we are simply unable to stage what is one of Northern Ireland’s oldest and most prestigious sporting events because TNI will not give the green light to funding which two government departments signed off.”
Tourism NI responded: “Tourism NI has received a request from Revival Racing Ltd seeking funding of £800,000 to stage the North West 200 and the Ulster Grand Prix in 2022. This is six times the funding provided by Tourism NI to stage the events in 2019.
“The funding request has now been considered by Tourism NI’s board and it concluded it could not justify the level of funding requested on both financial and legal grounds.
“Like all public bodies Tourism NI is operating in a highly constrained budget environment and is considering requests for support for a range of events across Northern Ireland in 2022.
” Tourism NI has provided Revival Racing with an indicative offer as to what it would expect to receive and what we believe would be sufficient to allow both the North West and the Ulster Grand Prix to progress this year.
“We are disappointed that Revival Racing has decided not to proceed with the Ulster Grand Prix this year.”
The decision of Tourism Northern Ireland has caused a number of politicians to enter the fray. North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, a name well known beyond his own territory and a backer for the scheme, described the decision as ‘devastating for tourism’ adding that government accountants had said the bid ‘was worthy and had merit, adding: “It will rob the economy at a conservative estimate of between £15m and £20m in turnover.”
Agreement came from Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson who said that for every £1 spent by the government £12 would be generated: “The funding would have revamped the races, improved facilities for spectators and attracted top teams to NI. Those businesses which depend on tourist trade and who are still recovering from the pandemic should be demanding answers from Tourism NI.”
Hitting back at MPs comments Tourism NI:”Tourism NI has total budget of £1.2 million to support events across Northern Ireland with an upper funding limit of £150k per event. Tourism NI undertakes a wide of activities to support the promotion of tourism in Northern Ireland which on average gives a return of over £30 for each pound spent which is much higher than that generated by the Ulster Grand Prix.”