The MCUI on Tuesday night rebuffed claims that a rise in the cost of insuring motorcycle road races would prove the final nail in the coffin for the sport at national level.
Two high-profile figures, North West 200 event director Mervyn Whyte and Bill Kennedy, Armoy clerk of the course of brother of former Armoy Armada hero Frank Kennedy, have suggested escalating insurance premiums are a precursor to the demise of the smaller Irish roads meetings.
National events including the Cookstown 100 and Mid-Antrim 150 face an insurance cost hike of £3,455 from £12,315 to £15,770 this year, with the bill for insuring Northern Ireland’s two international races - the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix - rising by 27% from £23,810 to £30,130.
It is a development that has led Mervyn Whyte, event director at the NW200, to question the long-term prospects of race meetings such as the Bush and Mid Antrim 150.
“There are now only a few companies interested in insuring road racing and the cost is soaring,” said Whyte.
“I am sure that some of the smaller races will struggle to meet these extra costs and it will have a major impact on the sport.
“At the North West we are going to be forced to tighten our belts at a time when we would like to be investing more money in our event.”
Armoy leading light Kennedy said his view was that the setback would “definitely” herald the end of some national races in Ulster.
There are currently five national road races here - the Cookstown 100, Tandragee 100, Bush, Mid Antrim 150 and Armoy.
However, Jack Agnew, chairman of the sport’s governing body - the MCUI - last night refused to press the panic button despite the warnings of impending doom from Whyte and Kennedy.
“As it stands right now, every race on the calendar is going ahead this year, although the Bush was an uncertainty as the club had yet to have their meeting prior to our centre meeting [to discuss insurance costs].
“It was very sad to lose the likes of Ryan Farquhar, John Burrows and Adrian Archibald through retirement because they were great competitors and they were very professional,” he said.
“Everyone will miss them, but at the same time it opens the door for other riders to come through. We’ve been in this situation before when we’ve lost top riders down the years and there’s always new talent waiting in the wings.
“We also have Michael and William Dunlop, although they may be concentrating more on the internationals this year,” added Agnew.
“One of the biggest problems we have as an organisation is that if someone has a slip or a fall they see a chance to get some money off the MCUI by putting in a claim - it’s not just to do with the racing side of the sport.
“It will be difficult, but as an organisation we will try to make the sport as cost-effective as possible.”
Agnew is optimistic new legislation can be put in place by 2015 to give clubs the power to charge admission fees at their events - an option currently only available at the Ulster Grand Prix.
“Hopefully in 2015 new legislation will be in place that means clubs will have the power to charge an admission fee for their events.
“Alan Drysdale, the chairman of 2&4 Wheel Motorsport Group, is trying to push this through and the wheels have been set in motion,” said Agnew, a former clerk of the course at the Mid Antrim 150.
“It has to go through Parliament but if we get the go ahead then clubs will have the chance to benefit from extra income through admission fees.
“People in this country have been brought up within a culture of being able to get free entertainment at road races but that has got to change for the good of the sport,” he added.
“It’s going through the legislation stages at present and hopefully by 2015 it will be passed through Stormont.
“I’m not saying it will be the be all and end all, but it will bring much needed revenue into the sport.”