Irish National road racing in Ulster could go to the wall in less than three years due to the financial threat posed by rising insurance premiums and a dramatic increase in claims.
That is the stark warning issued by three leading race chiefs this week, which comes after the sport’s governing body in the south – Motorcycling Ireland – has been forced to cancel all planned events in January after failing to secure the necessary insurance cover ‘due to high costs and the number of claims and high premiums’.
The body has pledged to continue its efforts to obtain an affordable premium, but has been left with no option other than to postpone several events this month. The alarming situation raises a question mark over the five Irish national road races scheduled this year in the Republic of Ireland, including meetings at Kells, Skerries, Walderstown, Faugheen and Killalane.
Last night, Bill Kennedy, Clerk of the Course at the Armoy Road Races, revealed the cost of insurance for Irish National road races in 2017 had risen by £4,000, while the international events – the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix – have seen their premiums hiked by £7,500. Clubs will also be required to fork out an excess payment of £2,500 for every claim made, up from £1,000 last year.
In an exclusive interview with the News Letter, Kennedy warned the soaring costs could sound the death knell for Irish National road races over the next three years.
“It certainly doesn’t bode well for the future of road racing. Insurance companies are there to make a profit and if it gets to the stage where they are paying out more than they are taking in, then they won’t think twice about telling you they don’t need your business – that’s the bottom line,” he said.
“In our case, the cost of our insurance has risen by approximately £4,000 or slightly more. It’s a burden for everyone and with the Mid Antrim and Bush meetings absent this year – and the Bush race hasn’t been going now for a few years – it increases the overall cost of the insurance premium for the races that are going ahead.
“The MCUI Ulster Centre’s three-year deal with an insurance company expired last year and I believe they had some difficulty in getting new underwriters on board. As I understand it, there just wasn’t the same number of firms interested in taking it on this time.
“The MCUI has managed to secure a commitment from a new firm for the next two years, but there has been a sharp rise in the overall costs and unfortunately the rising number of claims against clubs has had an impact on this,” he added.
“The end of national road racing in Ireland is no longer the unthinkable and it could very well happen sooner rather than later, within the next two to three years even.”
The Armoy Club recently received government funding to the tune of £55,000 towards safety upgrades, but Kennedy says the onus is on spectators to put their hand in their pockets to help generate much-needed revenue.
“It cost us £121,000 to run the Armoy meeting last year and we took in a total of £120,000, so already we’re starting this year with a deficit of £1,000,” he said.
“Insurance is costing us around £20,000 and it’s going up all the time. People are putting in claims for things like injuring themselves in a fall, when they’ve maybe been in an area where they shouldn’t have been – it’s not just down to the claims arising from racing incidents.
“One of the biggest problems is that too many fans are unwilling to contribute to the cost of running a national road race by buying a programme or making a voluntary donation at the gate, or paying into an official car park or grandstand.
“There are too many freeloaders and they don’t realise how difficult it is for clubs to raise the money to put on these events,” Kennedy added.
“If that mindset doesn’t change, then I can see road racing being in a very difficult place in two to three years’ time. If it does come to an end, unfortunately I think the lion’s share of the blame will lie with these so-called fans.”
Kennedy’s views were echoed by Noel Johnston, Clerk of the Course at the Ulster Grand Prix.
Johnston revealed it would take almost £36,000 to cover the cost of insurance for the famous Dundrod race this year, compared to a premium of just £6,000 back in 2002.
“It’s a big issue not only for national road racing but also for the international events as well. It takes £36,000 to cover our insurance costs and that’s a lot of money,” he said.
“No matter how well you might be sponsored, the amount of money needed now for insurance is crazy. In 2002, the insurance cost was something around £6,000, so that’s a huge increase in 15 years.
“I said years ago that insurance is the one thing that could bring road racing to an end and it’s definitely a real possibility now. Local people simply aren’t willing to pay for a day’s entertainment and so many go to any length to try and get in for free. We need the fans to support us more, otherwise it will get to a stage where races will disappear for good.”
Meanwhile, Jack Agnew, a former President of the MCUI Ulster Centre and chairman of the Mid Antrim Club, also agreed that insurance costs posed the single biggest threat to the sport.
The Mid Antrim 150 has been cancelled for 2017 due to a lack of finances and Agnew fears spiralling costs could place other events in jeopardy.
“I believe rising insurance costs are the single biggest threat to the future of Irish road racing, but also the overall cost of running our race is becoming so difficult to manage, because we have no way of bringing money in from the spectators,” he said.
“It cost us around £85,000 to run the Mid Antrim and that’s a huge amount of money for any small club of volunteers. If people want to see road racing in the future they are going to have to pay for it.
“People aren’t putting their hands in their pockets. This is a big problem for national road races, because we don’t have the legislation in place to charge people into the events.
“Sadly, it seems that there is no appetite within government to grant legislation that would allow us to charge admission at the road-ends.
“It’s just so hard nowadays to make ends meet.”