Bill Kennedy warns coronavirus impact on Irish road racing will stretch far beyond 2020

The start of the first Supersport race at the Armoy Road Races in 2019.The start of the first Supersport race at the Armoy Road Races in 2019.
The start of the first Supersport race at the Armoy Road Races in 2019. | jpimedia
Armoy Clerk of the Course Bill Kennedy has sounded a stark warning that it could be 2022 before Irish road racing recovers from the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

The ‘Race of Legends’ is the only Ulster event on the calendar yet to be postponed or cancelled this season, although Kennedy admits it is unlikely the race will take place as scheduled from July 24-25.

So far, the Cookstown 100, Tandragee 100 and North West 200 have been called off, while the Isle of Man TT and Southern 100 have been cancelled.

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Motorcycling Ireland, incorporating the MCUI Southern Centre Ltd, has also issued a statement saying all road racing events in the Republic of Ireland have been cancelled ‘for the foreseeable future’.

While the prospect of any road racing in 2020 appears bleak at best, Kennedy has also questioned whether the sport will even be in a position to resume as normal next year.

In an interview with the News Letter, Kennedy said: “It takes more than £120,000 to put on our race and although we appreciate the little bit of money we do get from the council and also from Tourism Northern Ireland, the biggest majority of that money comes from the private sector, our own funding and the money raised from the sale of a couple of thousand programmes.

“Businesses at the moment are shut down and they have bills to pay. Even if we did manage to go ahead this year, would people be able to afford to travel and pay £15 for a programme when this is over?

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“I would even worry about 2021 for road racing in general. How many small businesses out there will be able to put their hand in their pocket and pay out £4,000 or £5,000 in sponsorship,” he added.”

“Since we started Armoy in 2009, we’ve been getting a five-figure sum for the sponsorship of the main race on the programme.

“If businesses have laid people off and aren’t able to bring them back into employment again, then morally can they look at themselves and hand out several thousand pounds in race sponsorship? They will also have bills to pay and loans to possibly loans to pay back.”

Kennedy also feels the detrimental impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the tourism sector will have long-lasting implications for sporting events in Northern Ireland.

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“It will also take tourism a while to pick up again and I believe this will have a long-term knock-on effect. I think we’ll be into 2022 before we see things return to normal,” he said.

“I’m not saying that some races won’t go ahead next year, including Armoy, but if they do I would guess we’d only be able to run about half-a-dozen of the classes.

“This won’t just be the case of flicking a switch and going back to normal. The government is handing out money to businesses and paying up to 80 per-cent of people’s wages – and rightly so – but this will all have to be recouped back somehow,” Kennedy added.

“We could be hit with bigger taxes and heavier fuel duties for example and the government will want to pull this back as soon as they possibly can.

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“Will the council be in a position to give any help when we get back to normality or Tourism Northern Ireland for that matter. We’re in unprecedented times here and this coronavirus could peak at the end of the month, but we still have to come out of it and recover from it and that’s going to take time.”

On the prospect of the Armoy Road Races going ahead in the summer, Kennedy admitted he wasn’t hopeful and said there would be no prospect of running the event later in the year.

“We were planning ahead and hoping for the best but then the Ulster Centre put out a notice that all MCUI (UC) events were suspended for the foreseeable future,” he said.

“If we were looking at an improved picture from the middle or end of April, then we could probably go with our race, but I don’t think that looks likely.

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“If we are unable to hold the race in the last weekend of July then we won’t be running at all until 2021. There are a few reasons for that and for example we have a school on our circuit and after the summer months, it would be open again in a normal situation, which causes problems. The local farmers are at a different stage of their year as well and it would impact on them differently, so we wouldn’t want to spoil the good rapport we have with them.

“Different factors come into the equation and we’d have to hold off until next year.”

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