THE ORGANISERS of the Athea Motorcycle Road Races have blamed “hassle” from banks and a lack of sponsorship for their decision to cancel this year’s event, a move which will strike a significant blow to the local economy.
The races have annually attracted more than 10,000 visitors to West Limerick and have become one the main fixtures on the Irish professional road racing calendar since they were first held in 2002.
However, the event will not take place this summer as the Athea Road Race Club has been unable to secure the €70,000 needed to pay for prize money and costs. It is the second time that the races have been cancelled for financial reasons in the past three years.
Joanne Kelly Walsh, a member of the organising committee, said that they had difficulty dealing with their banks following the 2011 event.
“The banks weren’t very forthcoming. Every year, West Limerick Resources offer us a grant and to draw it down we have to have all our invoices and bills paid off first. Normally the banks would give us an overdraft to get that sorted. But this year they weren’t budging. It’s disappointing, because [the WLR grant] is guaranteed money.”
Connie Herbert, Athea businessman and one of the driving forces of the races since 2002, admitted that while there has been “hassle” with banks, securing sponsorship has been a serious issue since their previous title sponsors, Quinn Insurance, pulled out in 2009.
“There has been hassle with the banks in getting temporary funding to tie things over in between. But nobody is in the mood to be writing cheques these days. Major sponsors are hard to come by. But we really are hopeful of getting it back in 2013.”
The races did not take place in 2010 due to financial pressures, but returned amid much fanfare last July. However, there were problems with the quality of the road surface used for the racing circuit. Limerick County Council paid to have the road re-laid ahead of last year’s event, but it is understood that the cost of having this carried out again this year was a stumbling block.
Likewise, Ms Kelly Walsh said that problems in securing funding from banks meant that last year’s competitors had to wait until almost Christmas to receive their prize money, something which placed a “bad onus” on an event which is otherwise very popular with racers.
Mr Herbert said that while the races are still important to the local economy, they no longer provide a “bonanza” for businesses. “Back in 2002, it was a washout, but inside in the pubs at 2pm, it was a bonanza. That’s over now”.
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