Racing industry leaders have expressed disappointment at today’s decision to delay the move to the next stage of the government’s COVID roadmap by four weeks, while understanding the reasons for the delay.
The announcement is a further financial blow to the racing industry, a significant proportion of whose revenues are generated from racegoers’ attendance at race meetings. Major events due to take place during the 4-week period of delay include the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown Park racecourse and Newmarket’s Moët & Chandon July Festival. This is not a sustainable situation for a £4 billion industry.
Racing continues to work with the HBLB on securing £21m in loan funding from the winter survival fund and the steps to conclude this are continuing as a top priority. However, in the continued absence of spectators in meaningful numbers the industry will consider whether it should seek further support through the Sport Survival Package.
Racing has shown that it can accommodate spectators comfortably and safely since the move to Step Three on 17 May. It is also taking part in the Events Research Programme (ERP) through a pilot at Royal Ascot, which goes ahead as planned from tomorrow. This includes up to 12,000 racegoers attending each of the five days, having undergone a strict routine of lateral flow and PCR testing.
Racing has liaised closely with Government and local public health authorities to ensure that the event is as safe as possible. The event will showcase how racecourses can accommodate spectators in increased numbers with minimal risk of transmission on-site or in the local community and provide valuable data to the ERP. The industry believes that the findings from this and pilot events in other sports should be taken into account when the government reconsiders the move to Step 4 in a few weeks’ time.
Racing will also continue to press the government to increase the capacity limits for race meetings which have been in place since May 17 to bring the sport into line with seated stadia. The latter can have up to 10,000 spectators, whilst outdoor events like racing, golf and motorsport have been restricted to a maximum of 4,000 unless they are designated as pilots as part of the Events Research Programme (such as Royal Ascot).
Race meetings have taken place safely since June last year and the industry believes the evidence clearly suggests there is no greater risk than for attending a sports stadium.
Julie Harrington, Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), said:
“While it is disappointing that plans for the relaxation of restrictions and the further return of spectators have been delayed, we of course understand the principle that Government’s decisions should be evidence-based and public health must come first.
“Many of our racegoers will be frustrated by this delay, but we are doing all we can to work with national and local authorities to maximise the number of people allowed to attend race-meetings in safety”.
David Armstrong, Chief Executive of the Racecourse Association (RCA), said:
“Naturally we are disappointed to hear of a delay to stage four of the routemap to recovery but acknowledge it has been activated due to public health concerns. It is important to note that this will have a significant commercial effect on racecourses that had sold many thousands of tickets for events after 21st June—we estimate a loss of between £15m and £20m due to a four week delay.
“The industry will continue to press hard for racecourses to receive the same 10,000 capacity limits as seated stadia. Whilst this will lessen the hit it is still far from commercially viable in what is the peak season for welcoming spectators.”
Charlie Liverton, Chief Executive of the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA), said:
“The delayed relaxation of restrictions announced by Government is naturally deeply concerning for all those businesses and industries that operate events led businesses. British racing has worked hard with Government officials to ensure that we continued behind closed doors and, whilst this has been of benefit to all participants and stakeholders, including bookmakers, we recognise the rationale for Government to delay the further relaxation of restrictions and the eagerly awaited return of spectators.”