Pure road racing in Ireland and Ulster may come to an end soon, partly due to rising public liability insurance costs. In a statement released last November, the organisers of the Ulster GP said the event may not happen in 2020. The Enniskillen 100 will not go ahead this year, and events like the Mid-Antrim 150, where Joey Dunlop and many other Dunlop family racers made their mark over the decades, was cancelled back in 2017.
Sporting event cancellation due to insurance costs is a trend which has already affected the Republic, and not just road racing. Rock climbing, kids play centres, one-off outdoor shows, even GAA team events have all been cancelled, often due to premiums doubling, or trebling year-on-year. Ireland, North and South, is on the verge of losing a huge part of its culture; an entire way of adrenaline-fuelled life is fading into history.
Maybe the big risk isn’t to the racers themselves, but the spectators? As the cost of settling PI claims continues to rise, the idea of underwriting a sport such as road racing, where riders are often airborne at 160mph – just a few metres from spectators – seems exceptionally risky. One serious incident, where a machine leaves the track and hits spectators could see a multi-million pound/euro claim.
Everyone in insurance, and road racing, knows that one crash could spell the end of events such as the IOM TT or the NW200. The root of the problem is simple; how do you control thousands of spectators, how do you define duty of care in terms of distance from the action, and enforce roadside safety without huge marshalling and Police costs?
Merv Whyte (Event Director, North West 200), told the BBC: “Overall these are very worrying times. The big issue is the insurance aspect of things, with Public Liability Insurance rising and Personal Accident Insurance also increasing this year.
“Running the North West 200 costs £1m and to try and secure that income is no easy task – it involves working 24/7 to try and keep it going.
“Insurance is going to play a big part in deciding whether the sport will continue over the next three to five years and could eventually kill it off. There are a number of big outstanding claims to settle too which will heap even more cost on organising clubs, while the insurance companies could start to say ‘this is costing us money.”
Ryan Farquhar (Champion rider, team owner/engineer): “It is going down a very slippery slope. Insurance costs, running the bikes – everything is more expensive and there are fewer sponsors involved.
“The best days of road racing are definitely over.”