Friday 20 September 2019

Uncertainty over future of Rás Tailteann to stretch into New Year as organisers battle to secure sponsorship

A general view of the main group during the An Post Rás. Ballina - Ballinamore. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
A general view of the main group during the An Post Rás. Ballina - Ballinamore. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

Ciarán Lennon

The organisers of Rás Tailteann admit the hunt for a new sponsor to secure the future of the race will stretch in to the New Year.

They haven’t given up hope of sealing a deal yet, despite already being almost a month past their self-imposed deadline. Talks are still ongoing with two potential sponsors; one international and one Irish company.

"The chances of them making any decisions four or five days before Christmas are very, very remote. So we won’t hear a yay or nay from them until the first week in January," said race director Eimear Dignam.

"I don’t imagine we can push it out any further than the second week in January."

Dignam is currently more hopeful that the local company will come through with the goods, but getting a final decision has become a frustrating waiting game.

"The original people we brought it to, their recommendation was to take it on board and they’ve pushed it up to the CEO, who is well aware of it but getting them to make the decision is an issue," she said.

"We need to make a decision about how late is too late, we’re really pushing it to secure teams even that late."

Those potential teams are well aware of the uncertainty surrounding the race, which is provisionally pencilled in for its traditional May date, but the race route has been designed to help the organisers secure enough accommodation at short notice if a financial package is secured.

"It’s not going to be easy, but if we get the money to do it everyone will put the shoulder to the wheel and we’ll get it done," said Dignam.

"That’s just the way it is, we may have to concede (the race won’t take place) but that will be the last thing we want to do. If one of these two leads don’t come to fruition in the next couple of weeks we won’t get a sponsor."

The Rás has taken place every year since 1953 and its absence from the Irish racing calendar would have a detrimental effect on the entire domestic scene, according to the leading county rider in this year’s event.

Mark Dowling believes the worst-case scenario would cause a significant drop in the standard of racing and ultimately lead to a "disastrous turnout in the national championships."

"It would be absolutely huge, the entire Irish racing season is based around the Rás and everybody brings their level up (for it) to try and focus just on the Rás," said Dowling, the son of the nine-time national boxing champion Mick.

"I think if there's no Rás, all of the top-end race guys probably wouldn’t put that massive, massive effort in, like they would have, and the level across the board would drop.

"Even though there's only 70 or 80 (Irish) guys in the Rás, but those 70 or 80 guys are the top guys in the country and I think that level will drop significantly.

"I think most of the domestic-based riders will know that and they would probably skip the national championships because they know that they just don't stand a chance.

"I think the knock-on effect from not having a Rás would be a disastrous turnout in the national championships."

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