Racing dealt ‘a serious blow’ as new restrictions delay fans’ return

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has stated that the new measures to postpone the return of crowds for the foreseeable future is a ‘serious blow’ to the industry and ‘threatens the survival of sports organisations and the many livelihoods they support’.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a series of new restrictions following a surge of coronavirus cases across the country. Included in the new measures was a ‘pause’ on fans returning to stadiums and outdoor venues.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson said: “We have to acknowledge the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen large sporting events.

“We will not be able to do this from 1st October and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs, which are the life and soul of our communities. The Chancellor and the Culture Secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.”

“We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments and new forms of mass testing but unless we palpably make progress we should assume the restrictions I’ve announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.

“If things turn around and the British public can do what they did before to get this virus under control then, of course, we will review the measures.”

Michael Gove – Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet – also dispelled any hopes for pilot schemes which would have returned live sport fans to stadiums through the winter, something which football clubs and racing had hoped to trial across venues.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We’ve been piloting some open air venues and we do want to be able in due course to allow people to return to watch football and other sporting events. We need to be cautious at the moment and I think a mass reopening at this stage wouldn’t be appropriate.”

The decision comes after a small number of trial events have been carried out by the racing sector, which saw a limited number of fans attend, while organisers ensured that strict COVID-19 measures were adhered to.

Commenting on the new measures, the Chief Executive of the BHA, Nick Rust, said: “Racing’s leaders are responding to this crisis by working together like never before. We are working to a recovery plan, but today’s announcement will set back our progress.

“We will urge the government to provide financial support, as they have indicated they are considering, and to accept the case for urgent reform of the Levy.

“Our loyal owners and our key international investors have stood by us and we ask the government to work with us to maintain that confidence in racing and in Britain.”

The BHA has previously warned the government that the sector is facing between £250 million – £300 million in lost revenue this year as a result of the pandemic, which subsequently means a drop in prize money for participants and owners.

To assess the financial impact of the last few months, the BHA will be carrying out a further economic impact assessment and will work with the government ‘to put in place financial assistance to protect livelihoods and rural communities’.

In a statement, the BHA said: “The delay to the public’s return to sporting events is a serious blow to the horseracing industry and to the people and communities who depend upon it for their living. Our sport has worked hard with public health officials to return safely and carry out pilot events.

“The exemplary response from the spectators in following the measures we put in place has shown that organised events can be run safely. We look forward to a full evaluation of the pilots and for the evidence to be used to inform future decisions about sporting events.

“Despite all those efforts, our industry is now facing a severe threat. We are the second most attended spectator sport in the country. Without the millions of people who normally enjoy a day at the races, many people’s jobs are at serious risk, as are the businesses they work in.”

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