The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has reported that a ‘serious blow’ to the industry that ‘threatens the survival of sports organisations and the many livelihoods they support’ as the latest measures to delay the return of crowds for the near future.
Yesterday, after a wave of coronavirus cases across the world, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a number of new restrictions. A ‘break’ was included in the new steps for fans returning to stadiums and outdoor venues.
Johnson, speaking in the House of Commons, 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, Duchy of Lancaster Chancellor and Cabinet Minister, also rejected any expectations of pilot projects that would have returned live sports fans to stadiums over the winter, something that football clubs and racing had planned to try through venues.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Gove said: “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 the racing market, which has seen a limited number of fans participating in a small number of trial events, whilst the organisers have ensured that strict COVID-19 steps have been adhered to.
The Chief Executive of the BHA, Nick Rust, speaking on the new steps, 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 this year, as a result of the pandemic, the sector faces between £ 250 million and £300 million in lost revenue, which consequently means a decrease in prize money for competitors and owners.
The BHA will carry out a further economic impact assessment to determine the financial impact of the last few months and will collaborate with the government to “put in place financial assistance to protect livelihoods and rural communities’.
The BHA said in a statement: “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.”