Racing gets green light to continue in latest lockdown
Prime minister Boris Johnson last night announced a second national lockdown for England from Thursday until December 2, including the closure of all betting shops, but racing will be allowed to continue.
Oliver Dowden, the minister with responsibility for sport, confirmed that travel to a place of work will be permitted if it is not possible to work from home, which will include elite sport played behind closed doors.
Last night the BHA issued a statement on the announcement: “The horseracing industry has worked hard to maintain the safety of our participants and the communities in which we live and work. We have done all we can to play our part and will continue to do so under the new restrictions.
“The secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Oliver Dowden has said tonight that elite sport played behind closed doors will be able to continue. Horseracing is included in that category, which is crucial for our industry.
“The government’s decision, we believe, recognises the professionalism shown by our people and vital need to protect jobs. This is welcome news for the tens of thousands whose livelihoods depend upon our industry. Now, more than ever, we recognise the need to act responsibly and keep racing safely. In the difficult weeks ahead, our sport will do its best to lift the nation’s spirits.
“We have set out to government in recent weeks the perilous future we face with no spectators permitted at present and betting shops closing. Today’s decision does not alter the fact that that racing needs urgent financial aid and funding reform to protect jobs and the future of our world-class industry.”
The new restrictive measures will be outlined in parliament tomorrow ahead of a vote scheduled for Wednesday. They are set to come into force the following day in a blow to racing’s finances.
The sport’s leadership presented its case strongly to government before Johnson’s announcement, with BHA chief executive Nick Rust saying he “firmly believed” racing can continue behind closed doors.
While the sport can continue it will be denied key media rights income from the closure of 5,681 betting shops in England and income from the levy, its main source of funding, will take a hit.
On a day of top-class action on the track in Britain and Ireland, everyone who derives a living from the sport had an ear tuned to the news filtering through from Westminster and there was an anxious wait as the sport was left fretting over whether it could carry on.
Racing in England has been taking place behind closed doors since June 1.
That situation has remained unaffected despite the tightening of restrictions, and Rust said: “Racing is categorised as an elite sport and has in place strict government-agreed protocols, which have been brilliantly observed by our participants and attendees.
“We’ve monitored racing since June and have seen no evidence of transmission of the virus at any of our near 500 events. Racing has continued behind closed doors in Wales and other nations which have enacted lockdowns and we firmly believe it can continue behind closed doors here.”
As well as stressing its stringent Covid-19 protocols and record of staging racing, the sport’s leadership is understood to have emphasised to government the critical role it plays in sustaining jobs, particularly in the rural economy, and the effect sport will have on maintaining mental health during a period of stricter restrictions.
Earlier on Saturday, Rupert Arnold, chief executive of the National Trainers Federation, also emphasised the importance of racing continuing in its current guise, and said: “Whatever new measures the government introduces, it is vital that racing behind closed doors continues so we safeguard businesses and jobs in this industry.
“We’ve all worked hard to make sure we race safely. All the evidence shows this has been achieved without putting any pressure on the NHS.”
The Professional Jockeys’ Association’s Dale Gibson added: “The PJA and jockeys are fully supportive of current protocols and procedures, including both pre-race and raceday set-up, we continue to have complete confidence in the BHA and Dr Jerry Hill in current and future circumstances.”
Wetherby was one of the courses in action on Saturday, and course chief executive Jonjo Sanderson spelled out how detrimental a blank period for the sport would have been.
He said: “Stopping racing altogether for a month would have been a significant issue. This is a pandemic and people are dying but you’ve got to balance it out with people’s livelihoods. If there’s was no racing again for a month, owners would question why they are paying training fees and jockeys won’t be earning.
“Racecourses have got to keep paying staff, as have training yards. The levy is not being generated, which means the income the sport has got to rely on is diminishing. I think it was costing the levy £2.5 million a month.
“It’s bad enough without crowds but if there’s no racing at all you would start to see the viability signs going up above racecourses, training yards and owners will think what’s the point in having a horse in training if you can’t run it.”
Courtesy of Racing Post