The World Rally Championship (WRC) is a challenge of man and machine versus the toughest terrain on the planet and the clock. It’s the highest level of international motorsport in the world of rallying and drivers compete in 12 two to three-day events in the series, on different surfaces ranging from tarmac to snow and ice.
Recently, motorsport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), announced the calendar for 2022, a season which, thanks to the addition of Kenya, will take place across four different continents: Europe, Africa, Australasia, and Asia. One country to have received a welcome back as hosts have been New Zealand, which will provide the location for championship action from 30 September to 2 October.
Northern Ireland hosting hopes dashed… for now
Northern Irish motorsports fans have been following the FIA closely after there were both talk and plans to host the British stage of the championship in the country. COVID-19 had other ideas, however, and plans were abandoned.
COVID-19 hasn’t been the only reason plans were dropped, however. Politics has also gotten in the way of Northern Ireland’s bid to be hosts. Disputes resulting over a border agreement made as part of the Brexit agreement have emerged, causing DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to threaten to withdraw his ministers from the Executive if the protocol wasn’t met.
It’s a threat that may have created misgivings within the FIA about Northern Ireland hosting the championship and could sink the nation’s hosting hopes. This is unfortunate because Yves Matton, FIA Rallies Commission chief, in the past had spoken positively about Northern Ireland as potential hosts.
Down but not out
This doesn’t mean it’s all over for Northern Ireland.
There has been excitement in Irish rally about the fact that the British Rally Championship will be skipping Northern Ireland in 2022. Some might find this strange, but observers believe the Northern Irish absence from the championship as hosts is because the nation will be staging the British part of the WRC. The traditional mid-Ulster date in the seven-round series stands as TBC in the WRC calendar, which some have interpreted as a clearance of the decks for hosting the British stage.
They may, however, be counting their chickens before they’ve hatched. Event organizers are still waiting for sign-off by the Northern Ireland Executive and Tourism NI. Funding issues could kill the go-ahead.
Which countries are hosting?
There’s still one hosting spot to be awarded and, despite its woes, Northern Ireland is still in the running. In the meantime, FIA has announced the twelve other nations that will be championship hosts:
- New Zealand
Croatia is thrilled to remain on the calendar, having made its debut in April 2021. The event saw a thrilling battle between the drivers, with some very close finishes. Fans will be relishing the 2022 Rally Croatia.
Another nation that will be proud to continue to be on the calendar is Kenya. The African country returned to the WRC in 2021 after a 19-year hiatus away — and it clearly made this return count.
One more nation that will be excited to have the rally drivers pitting their skills against time and terrain on its turf will be New Zealand, with Auckland having the pleasure of hosting. The last time New Zealand was the setting for WRC action was 2021, so it’s been a long absence.
Sweden is a familiar favorite, but the host city in 2022’s championship is a new one on the WRC circuit: Umeå. The organizers are expecting the conditions to provide the challenge and twist(s) the championship needs. The traditional Swedish location for Rally Sweden, Varmland, has become somewhat ‘snow unsafe’, as, in recent years, warm weather has led to the roads being largely free of snow and ice, forcing the organizers to relocate the competition further up north.
The UK’s love affair with motorsports
To say the nation loves its motorsports is an understatement.
According to research on the website of the market and consumer data firm Statista, Motorsport UK, the national membership organization for four-wheeled motorsport, represents 10,000 volunteer marshals. There are 720 motorsport clubs, and 4,620 annual motorsport events take place. In England alone, 56,000 people take part in motorsport.
Traditionally, the UK loves to bet on horse racing and football, but that doesn’t mean punters are unable to place bets on motorsports. Betting fans across the UK and Ireland are able to place sports bets on a wide range of motorsports events, with F1 being one of the most popular races where sports bets are placed. This means that online bets in Ireland and UK can be placed on the WRC next year especially if the event takes place on home turf.
Even before the WRC has begun, there’s anticipation and excitement in the air as fans wait to see who the final host nation will be. Will it be Northern Ireland? Irish fans will certainly be hoping the country can fill that last available slot.