The Racecourse Association (RCA) has released a statement welcoming the government’s announcement of the planned relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions on 19 July, emphasising the ‘difficult time’ the pandemic has posed for the industry.
Under the government’s plans, a range of COVID-19 safety and social distancing measures will end on 19 July ‘in one go’, although authorities will retain the ‘ability to introduce further measures if they are deemed necessary’.
The proposals will see the wearing of facemasks in public places become voluntary – although it is still advised – and most significantly for the horse racing and betting industries, all limits on venue capacities – such as betting shops, casinos and racecourses, will be lifted.
“It has been 476 days since British racecourses were able to welcome racegoers without restriction,” said David Armstrong, Chief Executive of the RCA.
“Clearly this has been a difficult time for racecourses on both a commercial level, we estimate the pandemic has cost racecourses £400 million, and on human level – we have deeply missed the atmosphere and presence of racegoers.
“The clarity provided by today’s government announcement is wonderful news for racecourses in England and we will continue to work closely with our industry partners and the devolved Governments for an update from Wales and Scotland.”
Leading horse racing figures had previously expressed frustration at continued capacity limits, with up to 4,000 spectators permitted to attend racing fixtures in contrast to the up to 10,000 capacity limit for sports stadiums such as football grounds.
Armstrong confirmed last week that he intended to take the issue to the DCMS, and following the government’s initial decision to postpone ‘Freedom Day’ from 21 June to 19 July, he estimated that horse racing would be hit by a loss of between £15 million and £20 million due to the four-week delay.
However, although welcoming the planned relaxation of social distancing measures, the Chief Executive added that ‘certain restrictions may remain’ in order to protect competitors and other participants.
He concluded: “With some of the sport’s marquee events to come including the Qatar Goodwood Festival, York’s Ebor Festival and the Cazoo St Leger Festival at Doncaster, our attention now turns to helping racecourses prepare for a fantastic summer.
“Certain restrictions may remain in place to protect racing’s participants but we will work closely with our partners across the sport to remove these as quickly as is possible whilst maintaining their safety.”