World Series racing sponsor Emirates Airlines has withdrawn its financial support in the wake of last week's terror attacks in New York and Washington. But it was stressed last night that 'the health of the championship itself is not an issue', despite rumours that the future of the series is in doubt.
The sponsorship deal had been up for renewal at the end of the year, but James E. Bassett III, the chairman of the Emirates World Series, said: 'It has been mutually agreed that, in the current international climate, the sponsorship by the airline will conclude at the end of the current contract.'
The series, which includes many of the world's top races, is now in its third year and executive director Nick Clarke said it would continue beyond 2001. 'The health of the championship itself is not an issue, it is purely a sponsorship issue,' he said. 'It is unfortunate, but the important thing is that the World Series will continue, and we have a number of other firms which have made inquiries about sponsoring the series.
'We are in a very different situation for attracting sponsorship to where we were when the series was looking for a backer three years ago. We now have one million racegoers a year and an annual television audience of one billion people in 200 countries. We anticipate making a further announcement soon about our sponsorship.'
The Emirates World Series, which concludes with the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin on December 16, was expanded from 10 to 12 races this year and includes 10 countries.
Clarke added that further expansion and possible changes to the format would be discussed by World Series executives in Tokyo before the running of the Japan Cup on November 25. 'All of our member racing clubs around the world are very keen to continue their participation and we have had interest from a few others, particularly in the Pacific Rim area, who would like to be included as we expand the championship beyond the 12 races,' he said.
The sponsorship blow comes at a time when the World Series has caught the imagination of fans. In recent months, there have been two epic clashes between Fantastic Light, the 2000 Emirates World Series winner, Irish wonder colt Galileo, and a third face-off is scheduled in next month's Breeders' Cup.
The sixth leg of the series, the Canadian International, is due to be run at Woodbine, Canada, tomorrow week.