The problem of spectator attendance at British racetracks has been highlighted in parliament, as major industry executives and organisations continue to advocate for more venue capacity.
MPs reviewed the efficacy of pilot events in helping to inform decisions about the safe relaxation of social distancing restrictions during a debate concerning the Events Research Programme.
Lawrence Robertson MP, the Conservative Party representative for Tewksbury, questioned sports minister Nigel Huddleston on whether crowd capacities would be equalised if pilot events showed no difference between racetracks and stadiums, the latter of which are currently allowed to operate at a capacity of up to 10,000 spectators.
Campaigning for own capacity
The MP went on to say that the horse racing business has been campaigning hard for its own capacity to be increased from the present 4,000 to the 10,000 level enjoyed by sports like football. The semi-finals and final of the UEFA 2020 European Championship will be held at Wembley Stadium, which has a capacity of 45,000 for the semi-finals and 60,000 for the final.
Huddleson responded that the government “had been unable to allow further opening at this time” owing to public health issues and concerns about particular events where the “potential for mingling” is greater.
He added: “I’m aware of the impact that has had on certain sectors, in particular racing, and that is exactly why we want to get the Events Research Programme moving and all these sectors open as soon as possible.”
According to the Racing Post, the Racecourse Association’s (RCA) Chief Executive, David Armstrong, has expressed his dissatisfaction with the limited capacity imposed on racecourses and has stated that he would take the subject to the DCMS.
“Where we have challenged government as well is to demonstrate the scientific thinking behind not opening up for what they call standing events and events where people mingle, which obviously would include horseracing,” he remarked.
“Although that is put forward as a potentially higher-risk environment, we’ve not actually been shown any scientific evidence to demonstrate that.”
‘Public health must come first’
Although both Armstrong and Julie Harrington, Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), had previously expressed disappointment with the government’s decision to push back ‘Freedom Day’ – the initial date for further relaxation of lockdown rules – from June 21 to July 19, they both noted that ‘public health must come first.’
The industry was able to win authorisation for up to 12,000 racing fans to attend each day of the Royal Ascot festival as a trail event after meeting with the government.
Armstrong added: “Obviously the most important test event for us was Royal Ascot. It will take a little while to gather the results from Ascot and if that were to come back with very positive results we would continue to press even harder because that would be the first comparable event with real evidence.”
Meanwhile, vaccine passports as a means of allowing spectators to attend sporting events is still being debated. The government had previously promoted the idea, which has since been endorsed by a number of sporting groups, including the Football Association (FA), Rugby Football Union (RFU), and England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), as a possible solution to the attendance problem.