Covid measures illogical and damaging
Mike Deasy on sport suffering from the government’s new illogical and damaging coronavirus measures
How can Newbury hold “pub in the paddock” events and Newton Abbot car boot sales, but neither venues can hold race meetings with spectators?
It’s a reasonable question and one which was raised this week in a number of places including Twitter.
There is a technical answer insomuch that the venues had licenses to hold the events they did, but not licenses for race meetings in front of racegoers.
The inconsistency is striking, but not the logic.
Racing had been able to hold two pilot events, both more than satisfactorily although the first, at Doncaster (pictured), fell foul of local bureaucracy.
It was hoped that Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting would be the next to demonstrate how racing could welcome back the crowds in a safe and controlled environment.
But in the background, the rate of new Covid-19 cases was rising. Nevertheless, there was hope that the pilots would continue to lead to the return of racing in front of the paying public, even with the numbers capped.
Then the devastating news for all sports that the target date of 1 October for the return of crowds was going to be put back, for up to six months.
Ian Renton, the regional director at the Jockey Club’s Cheltenham Racecourse sent an email to annual members saying the letter he’d written accompanying the season’s annual badges “now appears unduly optimistic.”
Renton warned that it would appear that there is a significant chance that Cheltenham Annual Members’ 2020/21 badges will have “little value other than a souvenir of the season that never happened”.
Announced the same day was the ruling that pubs and restaurants must close at 10pm.
The rulings are designed to reduce the increase in new Covid-19 cases and avoid a second wave. What is not forthcoming is the reasoning behind the measures and the difference they will make.
All sports are now seeking financial support for their clubs, participants, and promoters, racing included. Without help, the disappearance of many is a distinct possibility.
They’ll need to keep lobbying and those, such as racing and rugby, which have had spectators in attendance, will be pointing out how they’ve welcomed people through the turnstiles in highly controlled environments, possibly more safely than many a hospitality venue.
Whether or note the sports’ representatives query the government’s thinking remains to be seen.
But the questions should be asked as, without reasoning, the rulings appear to be random, seemingly introduced to send out a signal without necessarily achieving anything by way of controlling the coronavirus.
Racing’s representatives will be looking enviously across the channel to French racecourses which have been entertaining up to 5,000 turfistes.
The message needs to be got across to the government that sport cannot afford to be the subject of measures which reek of tokenism, especially when the government has fundamentally failed in introducing a track-and-trace system, world-class or otherwise.
In respect of racing, that message needs to come from a united front.
Those who think they can achieve progress because they believe they have the ear of the home secretary or other people in high places need to defer to the sport’s representatives, working alongside their peers from other sports. Now is not the time for fragmentation however well-intended.
Meanwhile, racing is benefiting from its exposure on ITV who have probably been the best broadcasting partner the sport has ever had – anyone who held an opinion that there was a viable alternative was demonstrating a major error of judgment.
How long we’ll be able to watch Chamberlain & Co is anyone’s guess but the prospect of a fixture list for the coming months at a reduced number of courses to save on overheads is a distinct possibility with a number of tracks mothballed. And we may not see them reopen.
Singing the blues
My thanks to fellow Racing Hub scribbler Whistlejacket for the “I can’t go racing” blues.